Second Chances – Youssef Salloum Goes from Beirut to ‘Believe’ on New Random Ties EP

Random Ties’ KD Murray, Youssef Salloum and Thew Vayle. Photo courtesy of Random Ties

Youssef Salloum believes the best things in life aren’t planned.

The Random Ties vocalist-guitarist elegantly weaves a lifetime of chance encounters and unexpected lessons into a new introspective, grungy debut EP, Believe, with Ann Arbor bandmates Thew Vayle (guitar), Steven Silvis (bass) and KD Murray (drums).

Believe is inspired by the roller coaster ride we go through touching on subjects, such a losing a loved one, difficulties in starting a family, struggling with faith and moving on. All the songs were written with a high-energy, feel-good vibe and a dynamic sound topped with an honest message,” Salloum said.

Originally from Beirut, Salloum spent more than two decades making Believe an alt rock-fueled reality after putting music aside for different careers, personal relationships and international moves. The EP thoughtfully represents a renewed self-commitment to creativity, motivation and persistence in a disconnected world of musical uncertainty.

“The song ‘Believe’ says ‘There was a time I lost a dream.’ It’s never too late, and no matter how hard it feels, things get better if you hang in there long enough. At the time, I had made the decision to see how I was going to make a living while having music as a hobby instead of a career. My intention was to be a musician, but at the end of the day, when you look at what’s going on around you, there was no internet, and there was no social media,” said Salloum, who returned to Ann Arbor in November 2018.

Along with his Random Ties bandmates, Salloum poetically chronicles his international musical journey through six heartfelt alt rock anthems. Together, those profound Believe tracks represent a highly relatable narrative about overcoming personal struggles regardless of age, geography or culture.

Week 39 to Why

One of those struggles includes eagerly awaiting the birth of a child after overcoming years of infertility on the Pearl Jam-tinged “Week 39.” Now a father, Salloum poignantly addresses the anxiety-induced anticipation of son Liam’s arrival during his wife’s 39th week of pregnancy.

Piercing, distorted electric guitars, pulsating drums, rhythmic cymbal taps and humming bass entice Liam leave the womb as Salloum throatily beckons, “Son, this song is all for you/All I have is all for you/Son, this song is about you/All I am is all I am for you.”

“Those last few weeks of anxiety were more than all the previous nine months put together. You want him to be safe more than anything else in life and then suddenly Liam was born and in our arms. It was a special time because it wasn’t easy for us to get pregnant, and it was the most powerful moment in our lives,” Salloum said.

Continue reading “Second Chances – Youssef Salloum Goes from Beirut to ‘Believe’ on New Random Ties EP”

Summer Sounds – The Stratton Playlist Test-Drives New Tracks with June 2020 Edition

As summer kicks into high gear, get ready to test-drive a new batch of tunes from emerging local and regional artists.

The June edition of “The Stratton Playlist” will gain traction with grungy alt rock, lo-fi jazzy soul, inspirational pop rock, indie folk, bouncy pop punk, dancy pop, melodic prog rock, bouncy pop punk and uplifting country.

Featured artists include Random Ties, Dani Darling, Trey Simon, Mason Summit, U Might Be Mine, Anthony Retka, Louis Picasso and more. Get behind the wheel and ride into the sunset with the picture-perfect soundtrack.

Interested in becoming part of “The Stratton Playlist” on Spotify? Send your submissions to strattonsetlist@yahoo.com. All artists and genres are welcome.

Silver Linings – Katie Pederson Shares Hopeful Words of Wisdom on ‘The Tracking Room Sessions’

Katie Pederson has recorded three new tracks for her latest EP, “The Tracking Room Sessions.” Photo by Savannah Wilde

Katie Pederson magically creates her own silver linings.

The Nashville pop singer-songwriter sprinkles hopeful words of wisdom and growth after recovering from heartbreak on her latest poignant, three-track EP, The Tracking Room Sessions, which dropped May 1 via all streaming platforms.

“I think at that time in my life I was going through a lot of that in different areas. A lot of times for me, breakup songs are so much more than that. I think there’s a lot of loss in different areas of my life, and that was just the best way that I could articulate it,” Pederson said.

Pederson beautifully articulates her personal reflections about love and loss throughout her fourth piano-centric release recorded at The Tracking Room in Nashville. Soulful, emotive vocals and hypnotic, uplifting piano chords immerse listeners in spirit-healing waters after experiencing the unexpected sting of rejection.

That first drop of relief arrives in “Quiet Waters,” which blends deep, sparse piano, delicate bass and sweeping drum brushes with Pederson’s melancholy, velvety vocals as she laments, “Take me back to that night/Manhattan and a glass of wine/When my hope was alive, you had that fire in your eyes/Ritter on the radio, singing I’m coming home/And the stars in the sky were aligned/All the things we didn’t know such a short time ago/All my days I thought you’d be mine.”

While initially ruminating in “Quiet Waters,” Pederson confidently embarks on a therapeutic journey throughout “Recover.” The self-assured track weaves soulful hums, rhythmic finger snaps, lingering piano, delicate synths and light bass as she emphatically declares, “I’m moving to Alaska/Lord knows I am never coming back,” and “There is no amount of red or white to calm this anxious mind.”

“‘Quiet Waters’ and ‘Recover’ were songs that I had written in June or July of last year, and I had written quite a few in that time period. Those two were the ones that stuck out to me the most,” said Pederson, who’s originally from Ann Arbor.

Perhaps Pederson’s most striking track includes a new soaring acoustic version of “The Landing” as vibrant, thoughtful piano entwines with sorrowful, optimistic vocals. Throughout her turbulent flight, Pederson tries to “soften the landing” as she sings, “Oh the road has been long and lonely/And one of my darkest nights/I swear you saved me/I was high as hope could’ve ever let me fly/And we were alone, you and I.”

Continue reading “Silver Linings – Katie Pederson Shares Hopeful Words of Wisdom on ‘The Tracking Room Sessions’”

The Nonconformists – Mike & Joe Poetically Expand Folk Rock Boundaries on ‘What About You?’

Mike & Joe blend folk and rock influences on their latest album, “What About You?” Photo by Brandon Fecteau

As modern beat poets, Mike & Joe distinctly carve new pathways to folk rock.

The Detroit-Ann Arbor first-cousin duo of Mike Benoit and Joe Provenzano etches experimental elements of dreamy psych pop soundscapes, rich retro textures and deep mystical lyricism into traditional harmonized folk rock on their second and latest album, What About You?

“Our little tagline is ‘folk rock and beyond,’ and there’s a lot of folk rock on that first record, but when you get to the second record, you hear my crazy ass solos on ‘One Trick Pony?’ We’re able to do that because we trust each other so much as songwriters, and through doing that, we arrive at what we feel is an original, seamless collaboration that’s something special,” said Provenzano, co-lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist.

“If that trust and expansive, multi-genre appreciation didn’t exist in both of us, then it would be extremely stifling to our collaborative process, so that’s why we just trust each other and rock on.”

Throughout What About You?, Mike & Joe rock beyond typical folk genre boundaries and jam into new territories draped in jazzy prog, baroque pop and singer-songwriter sensibilities. They seamlessly weave a broad spectrum of folk and rock influences, including The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, Fleet Foxes, Father John Misty and My Morning Jacket, into 10 captivating, nonconformist tracks.

“They were making this music that was informed by their own enthusiastic study of history and filtering it through their own modern, original minds. It was like finding out this whole army of like-minded people existed, and they were acting, and they were doing so with power. It’s the extra torch-bearing, energizing thing that made us demand even more of ourselves and feel even more of a kindred association with those acts,” Provenzano said.

Provenzano and Benoit share this kindred association thematically through several internal struggles – heartbreak, inauthenticity, disillusionment, desensitization of violence and self-doubt – while externally chronicling their creative growth as songwriters, lyricists and musicians. Track by track, they share different emotional challenges, unearth hidden meanings and reflect poignantly on their newfound growth on What About You?

Continue reading “The Nonconformists – Mike & Joe Poetically Expand Folk Rock Boundaries on ‘What About You?’”

Acoustic Alternatives – John Bommarito Launches New Weekly YouTube Playlist on Sunday

“Acoustic Alternatives,” a new John Bommarito weekly playlist, will debut Sunday on YouTube.

As a longtime music curator, John Bommarito unearths rare acoustic gems.

The southeast Michigan radio personality will share those priceless discoveries through a new weekly YouTube playlist called “Acoustic Alternatives.”

Acoustic Alternatives” will debut this Sunday and feature Bommarito’s favorites from the local, national and international music scene. Featured artists will include Caitlyn Smith, Logan Ledger, Ruston Kelly, Chris DuPont, Amy Petty, Kylee Phillips and others.

“I will try to keep the spirit of the Sunday morning mix I’ve been providing for well over a decade on the radio waves alive with this weekly YouTube playlist,” said Bommarito, who’s also a well-known radio personality at ann arbor’s 107one (WQKL-FM). “I’m going to work on figuring out a way to post a video commentary to be included as a separate component of the show.”

John Bommarito

Bommarito’s foray into music curation started while working in metro Detroit record stores in the mid-‘80s and early ‘90s. He enjoyed discovering artists across a multitude of genres and sharing recommendations with customers who frequented the stores.

That musical discovery expanded immensely once Bommarito started his own music distribution company and later volunteered as an on-air personality at 89.3 (WHFR-FM), a Henry Ford College freeform radio station in Dearborn . By 2005, he joined ann arbor ’s 107one as a regular on-air personality and soon launched his weekly acoustic morning show, “Sunday Brunch.”

“‘Acoustic Alternatives’ was the name of a show I used to do when I was the Folk Music Director on WHFR. I described it at the time as a mix of modern folk, singer-songwriter and Celtic music,” Bommarito said. “In this new format, I can spread my wings a little bit more with only the limitations of what is available on YouTube.”

With a new incarnation of “Acoustic Alternatives,” Bommarito is eager to expand his musical ears and mind in the vast YouTube world. Artists can submit material directly to Bommarito for consideration at djjohnbom@gmail.com.

“It’s nice to hear something familiar mixed in, but ultimately I am happiest when someone discovers an artist because of my program. A typical playlist in the past has been inspired by the answer to the question, ‘Who is playing a concert in the near future that I want people to go to?’” Bommarito said.

“Now, it’s more about simply exposing people to good music that fits that Sunday morning vibe – setting a mood for the listener. I might get into theme shows at some point. I always enjoy doing that. I will also keep the tradition of ‘Radical Revisions,’ an all-covers edition of the show alive on the first Sunday of the month.”

For weekly playlist links and details, visit Bommarito’s blog.

Reality Check – 310AM’s Nate Erickson Gets ‘Real to Reel’ on New Revelatory Single

Nate Erickson has released three singles since launching his 310AM solo project last fall.

310AM shows every relationship needs a serious reality check.

The Ypsilanti indie rock singer-songwriter and guitarist confronts this personal challenge in his latest kinetic, revelatory single, “Real to Reel,” which dropped last week via all streaming platforms.

While only two minutes long, “Real to Reel” hauntingly unites the frantic, glistening instrumentation of Two Door Cinema Club with the lush, lingering harmonies of Local Natives.

Vivacious, swift guitars, rolling drums and spirited bass propel 310AM, aka Nate Erickson, toward an overdue conversation, as he emotionally reflects, “The loose ends and disarray/Relay both fear and regret/You ask if you can stay/We both know the answer you’ll get.”

“To me, this song was a way to reflect on how separation can affect a relationship. ‘Real to Reel’ is one of those songs that just came out of nowhere. All the guitar parts and melodies came to me real quickly in a way that I find impossible to recreate intentionally. I hope people find it as cathartic to listen to as it was for me to write,” said Erickson, who wrote, recorded and mixed the track himself.

“Real to Reel” single artwork

Erickson also vividly depicts the succinct “Real to Reel” struggle through a refreshing Marian Obando animated video, which chronicles the relational scuffles of Millennials living in the city. Frustrated couples and friends navigate urban life and ride a double-decker bus in search of answers.

“I found her work through a band called Dead Rituals, and she did a music video for their song ‘Closer’ that I really enjoyed. I’ve wanted to do an animated video for a while, and some of my favorite music videos are animated – ‘Paranoid Android’ by Radiohead and ‘Open Passageways’ by All Them Witches. I reached out to Marian to see if she would be interested in working together and loved the ideas she had for the project,” he said.

As a newly-timed solo project, Erickson has released a trio of striking 310AM singles since November, including the dreamy, atmospheric guitar-driven track, “Paint Me Red,” and the escalating, divisionary anthem, “Expectations of a Failed Equation.”

In August, Erickson departed the indie rock trio After Hours Radio, which released two EPs, built a strong regional following and launched a well-respected, do-it-yourself (DIY) basement venue, The Late Station, in Ypsilanti.

Through 310AM, Erickson seamlessly combines Midwest indie rock with propulsive pop-punk emo sensibilities and seeks inspiration from Taking Back Sunday, My Chemical Romance and Jimmy Eat World. His growing catalog of tracks also creates a sense of nostalgia for the emo-alt glory days of the early-2000s.

With a modern outlook on a nostalgic sound, Erickson continues to write and record new 310AM tracks and collaborate on demos with Mark Bosch, vocalist-guitarist for the Ann Arbor indie rock quartet Stop Watch.

“I have rough demos for four or five 310AM songs now that I would love to put together into a new EP this year. I feel that my writing is getting stronger with each track, and this next EP will take the 310AM sound in a really cool direction. Hopefully, I can use this time of isolation to make some progress on those,” Erickson said.

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.”

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

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.

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