Songs of Comfort – Mike Ward Releases New Quarantine-Inspired ‘30 Songs in 30 Days’ Project

These days, Mike Ward takes life month by month.

The Detroit Americana folk singer-songwriter marks the passage of time in month-long increments, especially while hunkering down in quarantine.

Last month, Ward tested his creative prowess by writing and recording 31 new acoustic-based tracks at home as part of 30 Songs in 30 Days songwriting challenge with New York City folk rock singer-songwriter Paul Weinfield.

“When Paul set out the challenge, he put it in a post and said, ‘OK, who’s up for this? You have to write at least a verse and a chorus, and you have to record it and post it.’ At the time, I thought, ‘Yeah, I’m up for that.’ The very first one was the most daunting, and it was like, ‘Well, where do I start?’” said Ward, who released his last album, We Wonder, in 2018.

“I keep a lot of notes on my phone that I use to record audio notes and melodies, and I also keep a lot of typed notes of starts of songs. I’ve kept them compiled for years, and this gave me a reason to go back to a lot of those notes. I also began exploring feelings of what’s happening, and the very first thing that was recorded was ‘The New Normal.’”

For Ward, “The New Normal” serves as a prevailing folk anthem for staying optimistic during increasing times of uncertainty and unpredictability. The 4.5-minute poignant track features thoughtful, churning acoustic strums as Ward reflectively sings, “Got my love, got my faith/Only hope it’s enough to get us through these days/No human contract, touch of a hand/Six feet of distance across the land/Open skies and open hearts/As we close our doors, do our part.”

The New Normal” also opened Ward’s creative floodgates and pushed him deeper into the songwriting trenches. A refreshing series of lyrics, melodies and chords flowed from Ward each day.

“The one thing I was cognizant of, but I didn’t go back day to day and say, ‘Oh, did I use those chords in that song? Does this song sound too much like this one?’” said Ward, who submitted an acoustic video of “The New Normal” for this year’s NPR Tiny Desk Contest.

“I honestly didn’t do that much because I felt like otherwise I wouldn’t finish, and if there was something I liked about one particular song, I could always go back and rework it if I needed to. At the same time, I tried to do some different things from a playing standpoint.”

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Unsung Hero – Nick Juno Honors Early Days of Dylan on Resurrected ‘Dope Fiend Robber’ Track

Nick Juno combines introspective stories and acoustic-rich folk in metro Detroit. Photo – Andrea Wingard Photography

Nick Juno never imagined he’d collaborate with Bob Dylan.

The metro Detroit folk singer-songwriter took an unfinished, unreleased and unrecorded Dylan song, “Dope Fiend Robber,” from 1961 and added lyrics and original music to it. Juno learned about the song through Untold Dylan, an online curator of more than 600 Dylan songs.

“I tried to make it in the feel of the 1960s Bob Dylan kind of folky way as well as Woody Guthrie. I didn’t want to sing it like Dylan; I wanted sing it in my own way,” he said.

A tragic sonic tale, “Dope Fiend Robber” highlights a World War II vet who becomes addicted to morphine after recovering from a combat-related injury. His growing addiction escalates into robbery and murder as well as his eventual execution.

As a gifted storyteller, Juno eloquently honors Dylan on “Dope Fiend Robber” as down-home swift acoustic strums seamlessly glide alongside his nimble vocals, “They found me guilty at the trial/The Judge condemned me to die/Been on that morphine quite a while/But once I was somebody’s child.”

“It doesn’t really mean anything in the greater scheme, but it’s pretty amazing to see my name next to Bob Dylan,” said Juno, who grew up in Flushing.

Juno developed a deep appreciation for Dylan and folk music while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in San Diego and Honolulu. By the early ‘80s, he was a high school graduate who casually learned guitar from his friends on base.

“The guys would show each other three cowboy chord songs, and the first guitar I had was this little old one. I had to take it to a buddy of mine to tune it every week or so because I didn’t know how to tune it. He said, ‘If you’re going to learn how to play this thing, at some point, you’re going to have to learn how to tune it,’” Juno said.

“I handled that, but that’s when I started playing, and my big love back then was Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Jim Glover, Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. It was always a story first and then the music. I’m not terribly fancy; I’m a strummer, finger-picker folkie, but I know my role, and I want to tell a story, and I put the two together.”

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Days of Creation – New Nick Behnan Single Pays Tribute to Detroit’s Musical Legacy

Nick Behnan and Kendrick Hardaway celebrate the eclectic sounds of Detroit on “Days of Creation.”

Nick Behnan knows what’s good for the musical soul.

The Detroit singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist seamlessly fuses soulful, funky and rocky grooves into his latest single, “Days of Creation,” which pays homage to the Motor City’s musical legacy.

“That was the first thing I wanted to do in that song, and if you notice at the end, there’s a shout-out to Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Parliament. I definitely wanted to keep it as a tribute to Motown,” Behnan said.

“Regardless of what anyone says about this city, I honestly think it has the most timeless and the most iconic music ever. There might be a few exceptions, but I think it would be tough to beat Detroit as a whole when it comes to everything that’s come out of this city.”

Available today via all streaming platforms, “Days of Creation” features funky bass, rhythmic electric guitar, pulsating drums and vintage organ wrapped in 3.5 minutes of groovy sonic bliss. It also spotlights the smooth soulful vocals of Detroit R&B singer-songwriter and longtime Behnan collaborator Kendrick Hardaway.

Throughout the track, Hardaway beautifully sings, “What happened to the good days of creation/Will they ever come back/C’mon give me that funk baby, c’mon give me that soul/Cuz I need some inspiration, real Motown flow/C’mon give me that funk baby, c’mon give me that soul/I don’t want no imitation, straight rock and roll.”

Besides paying tribute to Motown and Detroit’s musical legacy, the track also references the absence of soul and funk from today’s popular music. These days, mainstream artists are less likely to blend several genres into one track – think back to Michael Jackson’s 1984 hit single, “Thriller.”

“New music doesn’t quite have the same soul like Bob Seger says in his song. There are great bands out there, and not to take anything away from them, but on the whole as far as pop music’s concerned, I think it’s lacking in soul,” said Behnan, who plays all the instruments on “Days of Creation.”

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Peace of Mind – Ally Evenson Defeats Internal Battles on ‘Not So Pretty’ Debut EP

Ally Evenson combats internal struggles on “Not So Pretty.” Photo by Donatella Pompeo

Ally Evenson recently made peace with herself.

The Detroit indie alt-folk singer-songwriter quietly resolved inner struggles and outer forces threatening her self-worth on Not So Pretty, a cathartic, five-track debut EP that dropped April 17.

“I went through a lot internally and externally in the beginning of 2019, and then throughout the year, things started moving internally, and I was having battles within myself. Those were more at the end of 2019, which I think you can tell more of the internal thoughts within ‘Burning Room’ and ‘Not So Pretty,’” Evenson said.

“‘Not So Pretty’ basically helped me not to hate myself anymore. For about eight or nine months of 2019, I could not stand myself, and I thought I was the worst person ever, and I needed to write that song. It was a mix of finishing that song and going back to therapy that really helped me to be in a way better place emotionally and mentally.”

Evenson follows her curative journey through reflective lyrics, soothing harmonies, dreamy soundscapes and shimmering instrumentation. Each Not So Pretty track invites us to tranquilly absorb and instantly connect with Evenson’s increasing vulnerabilities about self-esteem, losses and personal relationships.

The raw, pulsating title track features angry, brief bursts of electric guitar riffs fused with steady drums and soft bass. As a soaring soprano, Evenson revealingly sings, “I’m not so pretty/I’m not so clean/If only you could read what’s written in between me/And holding flowers, won’t make me look pure/And writing all these songs about it isn’t a cure.”

“I wrote it before a class I was supposed to have a song for, and I didn’t wanna play a cover, and I didn’t wanna play any of my other songs, and I sat down and started writing. I sang it in a class, and I just got so angry while I was singing it, and after it, I felt great. The rest of the day I was smiling and felt like everything was lifted off my shoulders,” said Evenson, who also submitted an acoustic video of the track for this year’s NPR Tiny Desk Contest.

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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?

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Soulful Cleanse – Greg Paddock Overcomes Personal Struggles on ‘Cotswold’ Debut EP

Greg Paddock experiences a “heroic” moment in the U.K.’s Cotswold region.

For Greg Paddock, Cotswold’s rolling green hills, quaint stone villages and storybook cottages provide an idyllic creative retreat.

The Detroit alt rock singer-songwriter visited Oxfordshire in the picturesque southwest region of the U.K. last fall to record his six-track debut EP, fittingly titled Cotswold, with guitarist Ryan Harrison and former Dishwalla frontman J.R. Richards.

“I still have dreams about being there and walking through the pathways to the Thames River. I made such a big deal about the village they’re in because there’s a red phone booth, and it was used as a book depository. I’d walk around the village and the fields on the days I wasn’t recording and would listen to music,” said Paddock, who’s a longtime friend of the U.K.-based Richards.

“It was good to have that extra time there because we were able to do a bonus track and do the acoustic version of ‘No One Fights Alone.’ I was able to work more on ‘Sunshine Smile’ and get more into what I want to feel.”

One listen to Paddock’s Cotswold instantly drenches listeners in cathartic waves lapping against the shores of wounded souls. Released in March, the emotional EP poetically addresses internal struggles, family losses, failed relationships and personal recoveries as long, winding sonic roads that eventually lead back home.

“My hope in sharing all of it is there are people out there who hear and can relate to it in their own way. It always helps me cope when we perform the songs at one of our acoustic shows, and I can either see someone reacting in the crowd, or they talk to me afterward. I am so fortunate to be able to live my passion as well as how much it has helped me heal me,” Paddock said.

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Country Mile – The Whiskey Charmers Take Road Less Traveled for ‘Lost on the Range’ Album

Lawrence Daversa and Carrie Shepard of The Whiskey Charmers. Photo by Jim Cohen

The Whiskey Charmers frequently travel off the beaten path.

The Detroit alt country duo of Carrie Shepard (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Lawrence Daversa (electric guitar, harmony vocals) encounter western frontiers, far-away galaxies, budget motels, fiery gun-slinging duels, deserted highways and nightmarish monsters while getting Lost on the Range.

Their refreshing 10-track cinematic road trip serves as the ideal soundtrack for a vintage-like spaghetti western directed and musically curated by David Lynch. During Range, The Whiskey Charmers embark on several introspective journeys while tumbleweeds blow past, wildfires burn and classic country guitar tones reverberate in the distance.

“We didn’t have a plan originally of what songs were going to be on there, but we picked the ones we liked the best. We thought a lot about the order once we had all the songs, and we feel like it has a beginning and an ending the way we had it structured,” Shepard said. “The girl (Akriirose) who did the album art noticed all the words she kept hearing, and she kept getting this explorer vibe.”

Daversa quickly added, “Like Lewis and Clark.”

Getting ‘Lost on the Range’

“Lost on the Range” album artwork by Akriirose

For their third country expedition via Sweet Apple Pie Records, The Whiskey Charmers enlisted Brian Ferriby (drums), Johnny “Wolf” Abel (bass), Dan “Ozzie” Andrews (bass) and Rooftop Recording engineer and multi-instrumentalist David Roof to join the “wild west” entourage.

Together, they seamlessly blend scorching retro Americana, folk and rockabilly into timeless tales of love, revenge and self-discovery amidst vast, barren fields rolling in the mind’s eye. Their Range adventure begins amidst blazing struggles and deep space odysseys.

One of Range’s most striking tales includes “Galaxy,” a hypnotic, interstellar ode to solitary confinement in an expansive universal frontier. Intertwining melodic acoustic and electric guitar strums, vibrant glockenspiel, echoing chimes, delicate bass and light drums drift to and fro as Shepard and Daversa sing, “Well I’m lost at sea, lost in the galaxy/There’s no one else tonight, no one else but me/Still I float along, most of my hope is gone/Gotta find a rocky spot, that I can land upon.”

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