“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.”
One summer night, Marty Gray casually walked into a Marquette bar and unexpectedly experienced a life-changing conversation with a random stranger.
The Ann Arbor indie pop artist, multi-instrumentalist and producer went to Flanigan’s Bar with high school friends to sing karaoke and decided to get a drink. Right away, a 36-year-old regular sitting at the bar started chatting with Gray.
“This whole conversation happened the summer before the pandemic. We went on a Wednesday, and there were maybe four people there. This guy says, ‘You have a great voice. Where are you from?’ I said, ‘I’m from Ann Arbor, but I grew up here, and I just wanted to see what this bar was all about,” said Gray about that infamous night in 2019.
“For the next half an hour, the guy starts telling me everything he’s thinking about. His demeanor was friendly and non-weighted. He didn’t present the information like he was suffering or in a bad spot. It was literally, ‘Hey dude, this is what I’m doing. As long as you’re gonna listen, I’ll just keep telling you.”
The regular told Gray about missed opportunities and regrets in his life, including breaking up with his fiancée, being stuck in an unsatisfying job, longing for the carefree days of his youth and feeling scared about the future.
“He clearly felt like he had missed his life, and it was too late for him to experience those early thirties things that all his friends had experienced. The whole conversation left me in a very different mood. It was really nonchalant, but really heavy,” Gray said.
For some reason, that 30-minute interaction resonated with Gray and later served as the inspiration behind his soulful, introspective concept album, The Regular. It beautifully recounts that memorable conversation and glides through the regular’s experiences, preoccupations, choices and uncertainties.
“The whole very human thing that hit me so hard in the gut was that mentality. This guy had been backed into a corner so many times in the last 10 years of his life, and he was in such a desolate, horrible spot where he was just drinking alone at the bar every night or with a couple of friends,” Gray said.
“There’s something about the way he was talking about leaving and the way he was talking about changing something. The whole sentiment was human and on the same wavelength as a fight-or-flight response. You can either lie down and die or give up, or you can make a drastic change.”
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.”
For Monte Pride, Michigan’s placid sights, sounds and scents invigorate and soothe the soul.
The Lansing folk singer-songwriter and fingerstyle guitarist beautifully encapsulates the state’s sonic sense of tranquility on his latest album, Even in Absence. With magical, pastoral references to the Grand River, Lake Superior, Pictured Rocks and other Great Lakes gems, Pride paints a seasonal, insightful canvas filled with introspective themes of loss, resilience, growth and change.
“I grew up spending a lot of time outdoors, and I’m still big into camping, fly-fishing, hiking and all that. Northern Michigan has always been a really special place for me, so it just kind of naturally makes its way in. Whether I know it or not, I process these experiences in nature and in different parts of Michigan. I think they just all kind of fall into place, and they relate to each other somehow,” he said.
Pride intricately stitches personal, transcendental moments through 10 serene Even in Absence tracks, including the calming title track. Twirling acoustic strums, glistening piano, peaceful violin and Pride’s warm vocals soothe listeners as they quietly reflect on a still September night, “Even in the ebb/The flow of going I pine/I strive to mend the losing/To know we won’t/Be parting then/Even in the changing/The fraying thread/In the almost lost/A sentiment sought/A golden friend.”
As Pride’s latest single and album title, “Even in Absence” establishes a timeless, acoustic-centered sonic quality that instantly appeals to folk music aficionados across all generations. Think hints of Simon & Garfunkel, The Tallest Man on Earth and Nick Drake fused with special musical seasonings from a Michigan-made singer-songwriter.
“When I wrote the songs and recorded them, I was only listening to old Simon & Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake albums. I think their songwriting style and instrumentation came through in Even in Absence because I had been listening to them so much during that time,” Pride said.
Pride magically captures his vintage folk aesthetic through a contemplative, poignant “Even in Absence” video directed by Shaina Mahler, who also created the album’s artwork. The thoughtful video reflects Pride’s delicate performance as crystal sea-inspired ornaments and hand-held mirrors depict a quiet, dreamy world beyond the looking glass.
“She has an incredible, amazing eye and style. One day we were sitting outside in our backyard, and she decided to start taking some photos, and I just sang along to the song. She brought so much to the video and the album artwork and embroidered all of the writing on the album cover. It was really special that we were able to collaborate on both of those things,” he said.
The Brighton indie folk singer-songwriter gently wraps her musical arms around listeners with her third poignant and poetic EP, “Notes,” which drops today.
“I really just wanted to write about all different themes, and that’s what I try to do with all of my EPs. I named the EP ‘Notes’ because sometimes a line or an idea happens in my head, and then I write it down and later craft it into a song,” MacPhee said.
MacPhee beautifully crafted her latest EP’s three introspective, comforting tracks as a follow-up to 2019’s striking “Heartstrings” EP. The breathtaking opener, “Where You Are,” features tender acoustic strums and mournful slide guitar that later erupts into an emotional epiphany filled with a Fleetwood Mac-inspired rhythm section.
She hauntingly sings, “I’ve been walking for miles now/And I’ve been searching up and down/And I’m trying, trying to find you/Chasing shadows everywhere, I hear your voice/I know you’re there, and I’m trying, trying to find you.”
“It’s a nice love song about missing someone, and I was actually experiencing writer’s block in 2019. Last summer, I went to Ireland, Scotland and London, and then as soon as I came back from that, I wrote ‘Where You Are,’” said MacPhee, who’s latest EP cover features a photo of her taken in Edinburgh.
While MacPhee tries to locate a lost love in “Where You Are,” she reassures another to maintain a positive outlook in “I’ll Show You the Way.” This exquisite track weaves thoughtful acoustic strums and quickly melds them with delicate drums, light bass and calming slide guitar as MacPhee sings, “And we’re spinning, turning, and twirling around the idea/And together we say, it’s a brand new day.”
The EP’s gorgeous closing track, “Cold,” includes deep, sorrowful acoustic guitar throughout it as MacPhee sadly sings, “I took a step back and I looked around/And in all the noise I didn’t hear a sound/I wanted to scream, I wanted to shout when I heard those words leave your mouth.”
“So ‘Cold’ obviously had the darker theme out of the other two songs, but the inspiration behind ‘Cold’ was actually written after I watched the Nicholas Sparks film, ‘Safe Haven,’ and then I heard a song in the movie called ‘Say Anything’ by Tristan Prettyman. I would love to have my songs placed in TV and film someday, too,” MacPhee said.
MacPhee recorded “Notes” at Ann Arbor’s Big Sky Recording with Billy Harrington (drums, percussion), Michael Harrington (lead guitar), Timothy Monger (accordion, electric piano) and engineer Geoff Michael (lead guitar, bass). She also worked with Geoff Michael on last year’s “Heartstrings,” which features the two handling the entire EP’s instrumentation.
In fact, MacPhee has soared throughout metro Detroit as an emerging singer-songwriter since the release of her five-track debut EP, “From the Start,” in 2018. The beautiful opener, “Lullaby,” provides a relaxing escape from life’s everyday troubles with mesmerizing guitar, vibrant piano and delicate drum taps as MacPhee quietly sings, “Breathe deep, breathe slow/I am here, won’t let go/Alone you will never be, listen closely.”
“I wrote that song for my mom when she was going through a hard time. I think anybody can relate to it and know that they’re free no matter what they’re going through,” she said.
A year later, MacPhee released “Heartstrings,” which includes the stunning “Blink of an Eye” with bright acoustic guitar and somber vocals, “I wish I could rewind time/Cuz you were gone in the blink of an eye/Now it’s 3 a.m., and I’m still weak/Insomnia has the best of me.”
“I wrote the ‘Blink of an Eye’ song for one of my mom’s best friends when her mom passed away. That seems like one others can relate to a bit,” she said. “I also like the ‘Our Way Back Home’ song, it’s a nice, happy love song, and it kind of picks you up. It would be a tie between those two.”
MacPhee started carving a musical path for herself at age 11 while learning guitar, writing songs and listening to her mother’s Motown and folk albums. She also sought creative inspiration from the late Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries as well as Natalie Merchant.
Her musical path eventually led to a growing roster of live performances at the Michigan Theater, The Ark, 20 Front Street, Black Crystal Cafe and Arts, Beats & Eats. She’s also scheduled to perform March 7 at Dessert Oasis Coffee Roasters in Royal Oak, March 14 at Lu & Carl’s Bar & Grill in Brighton and March 19 at Hell Saloon in Pinckney.
“I’m just going to continue with songwriting and expanding my catalog of songs, and I’m just going to keep performing and hope that I can connect with the listeners,” said MacPhee, who also plans to release lyric and live videos soon.
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.”
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.”