Remote Start – Detroit Artists Release Quarantine-Inspired Rendition of ‘Chelsea Hotel No. 2’ via Old Main Records

Three Detroit artists beautifully preserve the romantic soul of a fallen New York love story.

Emma Guzman, Christian Ohly and Quasi-Bullfight’s Malcolm McNitt breathe new indie folk-pop life into Leonard Cohen’s 1974 one-that-got-away classic, “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” as part of an Old Main Records-exclusive collaboration released via social media. It’s akin to Laura Marling collaborating with Pinegrove.

Together, the trio’s nostalgic, heartfelt and upbeat rendition features dreamy, swift acoustic strums, pulsating bass, effervescent handclaps, jingling tambourine, glistening horns and whistling theremin as Guzman soulfully sings, “I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel/You were famous, your heart was a legend/You told me again you preferred handsome men/But for me you would make an exception.”

“Old Main Records grouped the three of us together, and we went through a list of songs until we agreed upon ‘Chelsea Hotel No. 2.’ I was the one to throw it out there, as I had recently started covering it, and it’s an amazing tune,” Guzman said.

“I’ve enjoyed Cohen’s music since I was younger, and his songwriting has such a rich, dark charm to it. His emotions reach below the surface, and that’s what inspires me most about his writing,” Guzman said.

Back in the spring, Guzman, Ohly and McNitt each responded to an Old Main Records call for a special quarantine-inspired artist collaboration. The plan included stimulating local artist creativity and partnership amid a new, unfamiliar socially distanced world absent of live music.

After the artists responded, Old Main Records, a Wayne State University student-run record label and organization, realized these three were a magical force. In a sense, it was a dream collaboration for a trio of emerging, complementary singer-songwriters.

“We felt we could do something to help artists meet and collaborate at the same time. We had recording engineers and graphic artists as well as our own platform to help promote these artists. We first gathered the artists to meet all together on Zoom,” said Chris Simpson, Old Main Records president and a Wayne State University student.

“Once the artists got to know each other and their music, they had to meet online to come up with a song to record. The artists picked the track based on their own recommendations of pitching each other ideas. It was a very organic process.”

Continue reading “Remote Start – Detroit Artists Release Quarantine-Inspired Rendition of ‘Chelsea Hotel No. 2’ via Old Main Records”

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.”

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

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.”

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

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.”

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

Best of Both Worlds – Border Patrol Bridges American, Canadian Folk on ‘The Worst Excuses’ Album

Border Patrol’s new album, “The Worst Excuses,” poignantly and irreverently addresses a spectrum of inner hurdles and identifies novel ways to overcome them.

Border Patrol masterfully builds a lasting sonic bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

As musical architects, the American-Canadian “folk-everything” duo of Dave Toennies (guitar, vocals) and Cody Howard (banjo, vocals) creates a timeless infrastructure supported by candid lyrics, robust string instrumentation and impassioned vocals on The Worst Excuses.

Released last week, Border Patrol’s second, soul-stirring album spans eight raw tracks layered with shared stories of self-doubt and second guesses wrapped in daily struggles and victories of incremental growth, minor adjustments and hopeful moments. Each Worst Excuses track poignantly and irreverently addresses a spectrum of inner hurdles and identifies novel ways to overcome them.

“It started from my personal experience, and that’s the only way that I’ve managed to make real progress growing in recent years. I’m easily overwhelmed sometimes at the prospect of self-improvement and all the things that have to come with it,” said Toennies, who lives in Hamtramck.

“Because I tend to get real busy and involved in things and overwhelm myself, I try to focus on just the one little thing in front of me that I have to do, get that one done and then move on to the next. Once I started trying to scale that up and applying it to a much more broad growth thing, it’s been the only thing that’s really worked for me.”

Uncovering ‘The Worst Excuses’

With Toennies and Howard at the storytelling helm, Border Patrol invites listeners into a raw, recognizable head trip that crosses international waters and lands directly in the midst of relatable chaos. Their internal journey begins with “A Little Bit Better (Still Bad)” as a tight-knit fusion of folky acoustic guitar, banjo and drums quickly launches into an ongoing tale of feeling stuck personally and professionally.

Despite the track’s initial, dark mood, Toennies eloquently finds a small silver lining, “But there was nothing that could hurt me in that moment/And there was nothing for me in the life I knew/In that moment something unexpected happened/Out of nothing, something grew.” Occasionally, an optimistic, hopeful thought briefly wins over an anxious, weary mind on the toughest of days.

“I hope it’s a positive thing, and there are just a lot of running jokes that we perpetuate, too. It can be sort of depressing music, but I think that it’s depressing in the way that it’s trying to be frank and talk about things that we have a hard time talking about sometimes,” Toennies said.

“We’ve always tried to take these serious topics, and rather than having it sound super serious, maybe make it a little fun, bouncy and upbeat. I hope that it’s relatable and positive in spite of all the things that are wrong.”

Continue reading “Best of Both Worlds – Border Patrol Bridges American, Canadian Folk on ‘The Worst Excuses’ Album”

Heart and Soul – Linden Thoburn Explores Personal Journeys on New ‘Scarecrow’ Album

Linden Thoburn will release her new album, “Scarecrow,” on Friday. Photo by Robin Scully

As an explorer, Linden Thoburn searches every corner of her soul to find life’s true meaning.

The Brighton country-folk singer-songwriter deeply mines the head and the heart through a majestic journey of self-discovery on her latest album, Scarecrow, out Friday. Thoburn’s Americana odyssey weaves through sunbaked rows, bitter winds, mountain tops, shadow-hearted plains and the Goodnight-Loving Trail alongside 10 heartfelt tracks of courage, growth and gratitude.

“It’s an album about personal journeys – reflective and physical. For me, all the album’s songs came from deep internal explorations, and they represent the struggles to find meaning and to resolve my confusion and find ground in the rapidly-changing U.S.,” she said. “I hope to move people to feel or think. I would love it if people saw their own questions reflected in mine. The music I love the most makes me feel mirrored and less alone in the world.”

Each Scarecrow track encapsulates a struggle, a passage, an emotional hurdle, a dilemma and a celebration as birds, scarecrows, coyotes and heroes seek new beginnings. The breathtaking opener, “Carolina Wren,” creates a timeless country sound while embarking on a life-changing path.

Bright acoustic and slide guitars fuse with hypnotic piano to accompany Thoburn as she beautifully sings, “I hope you find you and your voice, your song again/Maybe find a friend/And when you arrive in a place where you belong/I hope you sing out like a Carolina Wren.”

Hearing the Calls of the ‘Carolina Wren’ and the ‘Whippoorwill’

“Scarecrow” album art. Photo by Robin Scully

The high-pitched calls of the “Carolina Wren” instantly resonate with the “Scarecrow’s” deep desire to “follow the sun or the Canada geese” on the liberating title track. Wailing slide guitar, deep harmonica and vibrant mandolin echo in the distance as the “Scarecrow” imagines heading east while Thoburn shares her planned escape, “She’s holding on/One of these days, she’s got the notion/To get outta here, go see the ocean.”

“I am inspired by everything. I love all kinds of music, but I particularly like a compelling and harmonious melody. As for my own process, I always start with melody, and the melody generally brings a feeling to me,” Thoburn said. “I allow the melody and the feeling to begin expressing. Sometimes it’s super quick and easy, and then other times it comes out like a slow and painful birth.”

Continue reading “Heart and Soul – Linden Thoburn Explores Personal Journeys on New ‘Scarecrow’ Album”

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”

In Time – Rochelle Clark Releases Debut EP, Opens for Bones Maki and the Blue Water Boys Feb. 21 in Farmington

Rochelle Clark will open for Bones Maki and the Blue Water Boys Feb. 21 in Farmington. Photo by Jason Dennie

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.”

Continue reading “In Time – Rochelle Clark Releases Debut EP, Opens for Bones Maki and the Blue Water Boys Feb. 21 in Farmington”

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”

Early Check-in – Judy Banker Creates Welcoming Stay on New ‘Buffalo Motel’ Album, Hosts Release Show Thursday at The Ark

Judy Banker, center, will celebrate the release of her latest album, “Buffalo Motel,” at The Ark Thursday. Photo by Robin Scully

With “Buffalo Motel,” Judy Banker creates a welcoming extended stay throughout album’s dozen heartfelt, transformative tracks.

The Americana singer-songwriter shares an expansive, layered and atmospheric sound that transcends her traditional acoustic country and folk roots. Driving drum and bass tracks, hook-driven instrumental intros and breaks, and innovative arrangements push Banker toward a countrified indie rock territory that lies somewhere between Ann Arbor, Mich., and Kalispell, Mont.

Out Thursday, “Buffalo Motel” allows Banker to flex her raw, gritty songwriting muscle and weather a series of intense emotions through different relationships and life events. She poetically chronicles love’s rise and decline at several points in time throughout her third album’s intimate tales.

“There’s something about this being the beginning of a new year and new decade that adds a sense of importance to it all. This album turned out bigger and better than I could have imagined. I think it feels that way for the members of the project – the band and David Roof and Ben Sayler as producers and creative directors,” said Banker, who took creative inspiration from Beck, The National and Sharon Van Etten while recording her latest album.

“We didn’t know where all of our experimentation in the pre-production sessions was going to take the music. There were so many moving parts and different ways we approached recording each of the songs. ”

Banker collaborated with a roster of talented Michigan musicians on “Buffalo Motel” to make it bigger than the sum of its parts. Tony Pace (electric guitar, dobro), John Sperendi (electric and upright bass), Brian Williams (drums), Alan Pagliere (pedal steel) and Roof (multi-instrumentalist, Rooftop Recording engineer) added new elements to realize the potential of each song. They spent most of last year steeped in fireplace bourbon sessions while creating “Buffalo Motel’s” exquisite, multi-genre tracks.

“I hope that the sound of the album, this collection of songs and how they are presented, excites people and engages them. The playing on it blows me away – this band is over-the-top talented,” Banker said. “They pushed themselves and tried new approaches on this album to bring out the heart of each song. I hope people can feel that, and it moves them.”

Continue reading “Early Check-in – Judy Banker Creates Welcoming Stay on New ‘Buffalo Motel’ Album, Hosts Release Show Thursday at The Ark”