As the year (thankfully) comes to a close, we reflect on the strength, grit and willpower that slowly got us through. Together, we relied on new soothing, hopeful tracks that provided a welcome escape from the COVID-19 pandemic, social isolation, political rifts, grief and loss.
Uplifting, rewarding bits of indie folk, country-pop, folk rock, psych rock, shiny lo-fi soul, reggae, dreamy pop, chill hip-hop and experimental art rock demonstrate the courageous creative and emotional spirit we all share heading into 2021.
Carolyn Striho beautifully relives her poignant written words in a refreshing fashion.
The Detroit rock singer-songwriter personally narrates a new compelling audiobook version of Detroit (Maiden Energy), her 2019 intimate, eloquent collection of song lyrics and poetry.
Now available via Google Play, iTunes, Apple Books, Nook, Scribd and Audible, Striho’s latest release commemorates the one-year anniversary of Detroit (Maiden Energy)’s print version from Aquarius Press/AUXmedia. It features Striho reciting 28 selections from her expansive 50-piece “street princess” collection in a compact 41-minute audiobook.
“I recorded them with me reading over two days in the summer at the home studio while Scott (Dailey) engineered. I sang a couple of lines on some of the songs. It was very different to hear myself reading the poems. It was not that different from a song, in some respect, when I sing in the studio,” Striho said.
“But I felt more self-conscious as they were ‘naked’ and not being talked to or sang with music behind them. As I love hearing and watching poets read, I know it could turn out really well. We had thought about doing music behind it with some guitar and piano, but it felt really organic and natural to just read.”
The international collective of hip-hop producers, musicians and curators reveal compelling conversations, thought-provoking narratives and tenacious tales about social injustice, systemic racism, internal struggles and personal aspirations on their latest quarantine-fueled album.
“The songs that came out are representative of the discussions and conversations we have as men when we’re not recording. Because as a group, we still get together on a weekly basis or sometimes two to three times a week to just talk. We have members of our collective who may have autoimmune situations, so they haven’t been able to be out and about,” said Rod Wallace, a metro Detroit hip-hop producer.
“We have members of our group who have been through a lot in the last few months. A part of what we do is support them by meeting up and talking regularly; even a song like ‘Piss’ is a song that represents us playfully jiving with each other and talking crazy. It all was just very organic.”
Wallace and his Six Feet collaborators spent the first 100 days of the COVID-19 pandemic writing, recording and producing the project’s seven raw, honest tracks through Songlab TV, an innovative, online one-session approach to songwriting that’s documented by Digital Hustle Films.
“When COVID hit, we decided to build something called Songlab TV where a sample or an idea is given to a producer who makes a beat while a rapper writes and records their verses and an engineer mixes it,” said Wallace about Dirty Ol’ Men’s creative approach for Six Feet.
“Four of the seven songs on the album came from that process; while the other three, they just weren’t recorded, but they went through a similar process. We acknowledge that a lot of music is made that way these days, but a lot of it isn’t made at the time because those four songs were synchronous experiences.”
Executive produced by Wallace and Anthony “Gadget” Mims, Six Feet serves as Dirty Ol’ Men’s second release this year since dropping the Motor City-fueled East Grand in February. Collaborators from Michigan, California, Tennessee, Florida, Illinois and Japan brought initial stems, beats and samples online to share their profound musical conversations with listeners.
The Detroit classic rock singer-songwriter and guitarist cruises in the center lane as passersby impatiently zoom ahead to the left and right on his latest politically charged single, “It’s Happening Here,” with the Disciples.
For Whitelaw, the lanes on either side of him become congested as drivers yell back and forth across a growing divided national highway.
“With all the Left and Right going at each other over the past four years, it would be hard not to be affected by it. I was shocked to see the level of hate that was conjured by both parties and friends alike and the disrespect for each other over a difference in opinion and ideas. I really believe the loss of civility in these times is unfortunately something that isn’t going away anytime soon,” he said.
Whitelaw emphatically channels those lingering frustrations throughout “It’s Happening Here” as raw, crunchy electric guitars, pulsating drums, crashing cymbals, thumping bass and spirited sax erupt in a fiery Rolling Stones-esque intensity.
In tandem, he passionately sings, “As horror becomes our laughter/Now we’re left in tatters/Scattered on the deafest ears/Happens here!/So now we walk in silence/While hate becomes our triumph/Lost all sense of sanity/Had to be/You and me/We can see/It’s happening here!/It’s happening here!”
“For me, it’s a snapshot of what’s going on right now – mentally, spiritually and socially. I was watching some televised opinion show that most would call news these days, and this melody came to me. I grabbed my guitar and laid it down. I had a few lyrics fly out, and then I left it alone,” Whitelaw said.
“A few days later, one of my old bandmates, Jon Ross, messaged me some lyrics he had been working on and shared the same sentiment that I was feeling. I basically cherry-picked some of his lines and mixed them with mine, and it really took shape over a week or so.”
Along with the single, Whitelaw released new video for “It’s Happening Here,” which features the Disciples’ Jimmy Sparks (drums), James Megerian (bass) and David Reinstein (sax) performing at Jimmy’s warehouse on Aug. 22. Detroit folk rock singer-songwriter Billy Brandt and vocalist Kristin von Bernthal also contribute to the track.
“The Disciples got together for a video/audio socially distanced recording session at Jimmy Sparks’ warehouse and recorded a set for the Beats Go On program. We donated all proceeds to the cause. We were pretty excited as we hadn’t played together since February, and this gave us the opportunity to work on some new material for the new record we’re planning on recording,” said Whitelaw, who worked with The Mission Recording Studio’s Sean Morse and Stellar Videography’s Tracy Viers on the track and video.
“The recording and video is from the second pass of the track after showing the band the song. It’s mostly a live take of the band except I layered in a lead guitar track and Kristin von Bernthal’s vocal tracks at Sean Morse’s Mission Studio. Sean also helped multi-track record the entire session at Jimmy’s warehouse.”
Widetrack intentionally creates the perfect sonic circle.
The Waterford alt-prog, father-son duo of Ron Tippin (vocals, guitar, drums) and Zach Tippin (bass, guitar) will fittingly return to their musical birthplace of Pontiac for a Saturday show at The Crofoot.
“We are absolutely stoked to be playing our first Widetrack show together as a two-piece, premiering the public live debut of songs we wrote together for our newest album, The Unwakening,” said Ron Tippin, Widetrack’s founder.
“What makes it really special though is that The Crofoot is literally right across the side street from my old rehearsal and recording facility, where Widetrack was born back in 2006. It’ll be kind of like coming full circle for us.”
“We’re really looking forward to playing that same stage with The Crofoot’s amazing sound and lights. We hope that people who’ve never heard us before will find our music and on-stage energy to be inspiring. Inspiring others is our deepest desire as musicians and as a creative force,” said Ron Tippin.
A Spirital Unwakening
With the Tippins at the helm, Widetrack continues to unleash their dark, proggy creative energy since releasing their hypnotic, otherworldly album, The Unwakening, in April. The reflective project ventures through a dozen digital tales to uncover the conflicting duality of our personal and online identities in a “Black Mirror-like” dimension.
“The idea of The Unwakening is how we immerse ourselves in this digital landscape, and it just makes our worst tendencies come out; we just wallow in it. All of our wisdom goes out the window and so does our better nature,” said Ron Tippin.
With moonlit melodies, gravitational grooves and rotational rhythms, The DayNites soulfully shine across the metro Detroit stratosphere.
The Detroit-Ypsilanti R&B-rock sextet of Kristianna Bell (vocals), Ryan Greene (keys, piano), Tim Blackman (bass), Shaun Maazza (guitar), Erich Friebel (drums, percussion) and Rick Coughlin (guitar) share reflective stories about love, growth, freedom and wisdom on their celestial, self-titled debut EP.
“When I was writing, it was just things that I was going through at that time in my life. It wasn’t like one main theme. It was like, ‘This is how I’m feeling, and these are the words that are coming out right now.’ I would say listen to the words and the instruments, feel the music and let it take you somewhere,” said Bell, who’s the band’s primary lyricist.
“We all have a take on everybody’s liking, and we put a little bit of something from everyone into what we do. For the first album, it was just me writing the words. But for the music, it was all the guys working together and putting their own spin on their instruments to see what worked well together.”
Available through the band’s new website, the EP’s five emotive DayNites tales unearth a deeply personal universe filled with contemplation, consideration and transformation. The lush, dreamy opener, “Cherry Blossom,” provides a welcome, cosmic escape into the relatable thoughts, feelings and concerns of a lost soul.
Palpitating drums, intense hand claps, exuberant bass, glistening intergalactic synth and fervid electric guitar reveal the psyche as Bell sings, “But I know I need to come down/Collect myself somehow/Unconnected from the physical being of my perspective/The only thing I could create was hella questions/Answers too far off to see/Searching for something that would make my soul complete.”
“It’s about trying to find ways to escape realities that I didn’t want to face. The song is pretty upbeat, and people love it, but at first it was my least favorite song because of what it made me think of every time I sang it. Once the song was recorded, it had a different feeling to me, and now I love it. I’m no longer in that place so I can listen to the song from a different perspective,” Bell said.
While Bell experiences an existential crisis on “Cherry Blossom,” she quickly shifts to newfound freedom on the Motown-esque, pro-hooky anthem, “Not Tomorrow.” Throbbing bass, banging tambourine, soulful intricate electric guitar, pounding drums and sizzling cymbals celebrate a much-needed mental health day from work.
“When we wrote that song, we were in the studio, and I had to work at 6 a.m. the next day. I was like, ‘Look, I can’t do this. I’ll be right back.’ I went and called my boss, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I won’t be there tomorrow,’ and I came back in and wrote the song,” Bell said.
For Steve Taylor, creative inspiration inadvertently starts with a full hard drive.
The Lake Orion Americana roots singer-songwriter surprisingly ran out of storage space on his digital audio workstation while polishing tracks this summer for his latest solo album, Beside Myself.
“I’ve had this thing for 10-15 years, and I got an error message that said, ‘Hey, You’re running out of space, and you’ve now exceeded the limit of this hard drive.’ I said, ‘Oh man, I’ve got to start deleting songs off here,’ and I put out a solo album in 2005 that I recorded in a similar fashion called And So On, and I thought, ‘I can delete tracks that have already been mastered and released,’” Taylor said.
“But I had all these other tracks on there, like ‘Do You Remember’ and some of the other ones that wound up on Beside Myself. I was like, ‘Well, I guess I should just finish these off, or I should just add something to these.’ We weren’t able to do anything; I wasn’t playing any shows. We weren’t getting together as a band, and every gig was cancelled. I felt like I needed that outlet just to kind of stay creative.”
As a quarantine-fueled creative project, Beside Myself features 10 poignant, acoustic tracks and B-sides focused on long-term love, delayed goals, deer-car crashes, childhood memories, peaceful lullabies and other classic life experiences. In a sense, it’s a closely cherished sonic scrapbook of Taylor’s musical evolution as an influential singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and frontman of The Steve Taylor Three.
“These songs were forgotten; they were songs that I had written for my wife or my neighbors. ‘Sleep & Dream’ was a lullaby I had written for my kids when they were little, and I used to sing it to them before they went to bed. And none of them had I ever intended to release. Some of them just started as demos so I could give them to people, and we could learn to play them live,” said Taylor, who recorded the project in a home studio located under his basement stairs.
“Some of them were already done, like ‘Do You Remember.’ I had recorded that and given it to my wife for our anniversary, but I hadn’t done anything else with it. I started looking to see how many of these were actually done and how many needed more instrumentation. I started counting them up and found there was a group of 10 that I could use.”
The Detroit experimental sextet of Ben Yost (drums, vocals), Emily Parrish (vocals), Michael King (upright bass), William Marshall Bennett (piano), Mark Royzenblat (guitar) and Isaac Burgess (guitar) beautifully reinterprets Minor Threat’s “Filler” as a timeless, feverish tribute to modal jazz.
“I was practicing a lot of up-tempo swing and double-time swing, and I was listening to a lot of John Coltrane. The way I was going about practicing involved listening to a song in my mind. I’d hum along to the song, ‘Impressions,’ by Coltrane, and I would play and imagine the song, and every now and then, I would hum ‘Filler’ by Minor Threat. That’s how it started,” Yost said.
That coincidental fusion sparked the melodic, glistening frenzy of Blank Tape Tax’s refreshing rendition of “Filler,” out today via all streaming platforms. Frantic upright bass, thunderous drums, crashing cymbals, sleek piano and swirling electric guitars seamlessly blend two divergent genres into a magnetic, holistic sound.
Backed by lush, intelligent instrumentation throughout “Filler,” Parrish soulfully sings, “Your brain is clay/What’s going on? You picked up a bible/And now you’re gone/You call it religion/You’re full of shit/Filler.”
“I think there are similarities between certain types of hardcore, like 7 Seconds, Minor Threat and Better Than a Thousand, and modal jazz, like Coltrane and Wayne Shorter, especially in up-tempo stuff. The pulse is really similar between the D-beat and up-tempo swing,” Yost said.
“I had written a piano score for it, and I gave it to William, and he read it down. If I write a song, then I’ll bring it to the band, and I’ll just say, ‘This is kind of how it goes.’ And then they’ll kind of just do their own thing, and whatever they come up with is awesome. I’m totally happy with it, and there’s not a whole lot of talking back and forth, like ‘Oh, you should do this,’ or ‘No, you should change that.’ Everyone already knows what to do, and it just falls into place. I’ve never had that in other bands.”
Along with his bandmates, Yost recorded “Filler,” originally a 1984 track written and recorded by Minor Threat, during a live performance for the Hazel Park-based podcast, “Broadcast from Cow Haus,” in March. While the podcast episode’s release has been pushed back, Tom Skill and Joshua Young, co-hosts of “Broadcast from Cow Haus” and members of Detroit ska band CbJ, encouraged Blank Tape Tax to put out the track.
“We did four songs, and there’s a video of all of it. They do their show in season blocks, and they are two episodes short of a season right now. They need to wait to get those two new episodes filmed before they can put everything out,” said Yost, whose band name comes from a levy that was placed on purchasing blank tapes.
The Belleville soulful funk duo of Bruce Henderson (bass, guitar, vocals) and Victoria “Vox” Henderson (vocals) sprinkles delicious basslines, tasty grooves and flavorful harmonies throughout their new album, Sugar Fit, now available via Bandcamp.
“We just took all the things that we thought were centered on funk and put them together because we were seeing a gap. People say funk is dead, and we don’t believe that. We just believe they haven’t heard something new,” said Victoria Henderson, who serves as the duo’s primary lyricist.
“Whenever we would join those funk groups, they would put old songs in there, and we were tired of hearing the same songs over and over. We can take all our different funk songs, put them together, and for somebody who likes that older funk, they might actually like this. That’s a different approach for us.”
Throughout Sugar Fit, Bourgeoisie Paper infuses timeless, addictive funk across 15 rhythmic tracks about authenticity, self-actualization, balance, lifelong love, and political and social unrest. The husband-and-wife duo eloquently adds refreshing layers of R&B, soul, disco and rock to their solid foundation of funk on their 11th release, which was written and recorded last year in their home studio.
The album’s infectious title track blends bright, bouncy electric guitars with thumping bass, buzzy and dancey synths and honeyed harmonies for five jam-filled minutes. Together, the Hendersons reveal in Prince-like fashion, “Wanting to lose/This weight that’s holding me down/Shaking this blues/And repping my space now/It takes a challenge/For me to roar into action/But I’m just not that savage/Soooo prone to distraction.”
“The idea behind the title is that we’re all kind of having a little bit of a fit in this pandemic. We’re locked in and wearing masks and then not wearing masks and then there’s the civil unrest. We’re all having some kind of fit,” said Victoria Henderson.
Strong flavors of folk, country and rock will fill the autumn air at Lake Orion’s Canterbury Village this weekend.
Those aromatic sounds will come from a talented roster of metro Detroit singer-songwriters performing intimate outdoor acoustic sets at Open Air Markets Saturday and Sunday.
This weekend’s lineup will feature James Wailin, Sean Blackman, Al Carmichael, Tom Butwin, Johnny Rhodes and Jon Rice, said Mark Reitenga, a Royal Oak folk rock singer-songwriter who curates live music for Open Air Markets.
“This is a pure energy boost because many of the musicians have been laying low since March and many of the patrons as well. It’s like two happy colliding forces,” he said.
“The music is the tonal center of the market in that the musicians keep the spirit happy as market goers walk around the vast campus looking for goodies, donuts, cider, clothing and specialty items. The musicians play in the outside dining area to folks on picnic benches and also walking by.”
Outdoor market and live music aficionados can expect masked, socially-distanced crowds at Canterbury Village through Oct. 4. The markets also will showcase the work of local artists, crafters, cooks and jewelers and spotlight a different theme for vendors spaced throughout the village.
“They have been fantastic for the pretty strong socially-distanced crowds and also for the safe-distance and mask-wearing aspect. The musical acts have been superb – with many selling their original CDs and making great tip money from the family-oriented crowd accompanied by dogs,” Reitenga said.