For Mike Ward, a new album chronicles a thoughtful evolution of sound.
The Detroit Americana singer-songwriter carefully transforms a dozen acoustic tracks into an earnest collection of expansive tales on Particles to Pearls.
“I think the first track we added any instruments to was ‘All We Have Are Words.’ David Roof played the electric guitar on it, and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s what this can sound like.’ I’d been playing that by myself for two years,” said Ward about his third Psychosongs album.
“Because it’s been two years since I wrote most of those songs, and that’s right about now, every day on Facebook there’s a memory of the song, and I get to hear how I first wrote it.”
During the 2020 pandemic lockdown, Ward penned 31 new tracks as part of a 30 Songs in 30 Days songwriting challenge with New York City folk-rock singer-songwriter Paul Winfield. The poignant tracks opened his creative floodgates and pushed him deeper into the songwriting trenches.
“They’re all moments in time. The album has a number of those songs,” Ward said. “I’m pretty happy with the end results. David Roof plays bass on everything, but he also plays a 12-string Rickenbacker electric guitar on ‘Back Again.’ We wanted a Byrds/Roger McGuinn-style sound on it.”
As a gifted storyteller, Dan Hazlett eloquently crafts life-changing tales.
The Waterford folk-jazz singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist shares insightful stories steeped in transition and growth on his latest anecdotal album, Turning Stone.
“Every person in every song is a character, even if you’re the person, because you’re not that person anymore. Even if you were when you wrote it, you’re someone else now. Every song, in its own way, is a tiny piece of musical theater. That’s now my approach. This is a world … this is a little novel or a little painting all unto itself,” Hazlett said.
“At some point, you just have to let the characters speak for themselves, and they will say surprising things. And that is really fun, and you end up with material you would never have written if you focused on ‘What would I say?’ It’s more interesting to learn ‘What would this person say?’”
With Turning Stone, Hazlett examines life through the lens of an inquisitive mathematician, a courageous child, a lost soul, a lonely housewife and other people facing life-changing circumstances. The album’s tracks convey the thoughts, feelings and actions of intriguing characters who tackle their own challenges within a jazzy, acoustic-pop landscape.
“This project turned out to be the one that’s fully produced, like a band and sort of poppy and just a different kind of record. The songs ended up being in there because musically they kind of wanted to be together. It was more like, ‘How do these songs sound together?’” he said.
For Rin Tarsy, life is filled with beautiful contradictions and imperfections.
The Grand Rapids folk singer-songwriter and guitarist embraces authenticity, yet re-examines her purpose on the aptly titled album, Paradox.
“For a while, people would ask, ‘What’s the theme of Paradox?’ And for a while, I didn’t know. Finally, it dawned on me one time when I was listening through all the tracks – it’s about self-trust and self-discovery,” said Tarsy, who grew up in Portland and started singing in church.
“I hope all these songs make sense together, and I really like them, but I wasn’t sure if they did. It’s comforting and scary at the same time. Are these thoughts ever gonna go away? Am I always gonna be questioning everything? Maybe I will.”
Tarsy’s lingering questions slowly spark an emotional and spiritual quest of self-discovery on Paradox that spans several years. Each poetic track celebrates intuition and explores emotion.
“The first songs I wrote for this album – ‘Stay,’ ‘Dear Heart’ and ‘Suitcase’ – were in the summer of 2016 after I got back from Africa. It was the first time I had examined who I was when I took away all of the pursuits that I had and the things I had wanted to go after,” said Tarsy, who visited Tanzania, Zambia and Namibia.
“At the time, I had asked myself, ‘Who am I if those things don’t go exactly the way I want? Or if my idealisms of what they could be don’t match up with the reality of what they actually are?’”
“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.”
Brian Perrone truly understands the meaning of a heartfelt apology.
The Livonia indie folk singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist deeply regrets missed moments and milestones on his latest lovelorn single, “Sorry,” which dropped Aug. 28 via all streaming platforms.
“‘Sorry’ is rooted in that awakening; that time is a gift. I have a friend who has gotten sick, and it made me think about how a diagnosis can change your life as ‘regrets’ and ‘if onlys’ come into play. When we we’re young, it seems as though we’re invincible and will live forever. This sounds like a cliché, yet it’s so true,” said Perrone, whose latest track is featured on the August edition of The Stratton Playlist.
Perrone quietly mourns lost time as somber, sparkling piano, thumping drums, jazzy cymbals and melancholic bass open his emotional floodgates. He tearfully reveals, “All the life inside of me/Extinguished by reality/Shapeshifting into memory/Two plus two is on my mind/A simple place, a simple time/Everything I thought I knew/Was everything because of you.”
“I hope that a listener might take a moment to reflect and make a positive decision to take action on something they have been putting off. Maybe spend some time with someone who’s important to them. Life seems to have gotten too busy these days; heck, it is also a reminder for me,” he said.
Peppered with shadowy elements of Radiohead and The National, Perrone recorded his poignant vocals and sorrowful piano for “Sorry” in his metro Detroit living room at the start of the pandemic. He also programmed drums and added a wistful bassline from Ypsilanti guitarist Steve Somers to highlight the track’s dark emotional intensity.
“The song almost wrote itself. I sat down one Saturday night, and it just poured out. I could barely keep up writing the chords and lyrics as they came to me. I didn’t want to miss a thing because it felt important, almost urgent. No matter who you are, or where you are in life, I think in the end there is always so much more you want to do and maybe say,” he said.
“‘Sorry’ is a subtle introduction to a more experimental style. It blends a progressive jazz rhythm section and a haunting vocal narrative while being guided by some minor chords on the piano. It’s similar to the headlights you would watch from your windshield on a dark and winding road.”
Perrone visually depicts the dark, haunting moments of “Sorry” in an eloquent puppet-themed, stop-motion video directed by Shyam Talwar. Throughout the Tim Burton-esque video, the skeletal remains of two lovers lead separate lives and long for one another while working, cooking and cleaning. Foggy, barren rooms symbolize the growing emptiness and lingering isolation they face each day.
“As a fan of Brothers Quay, I decided to seek out someone who might work in a similar medium, yet different enough to be original. After searching high and low, I recruited Shyam Talwar, and I explained my basic framework and hopes for this video. The video took about a month to complete, and I was extremely pleased when I saw the final cut,” Perrone said.
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.
“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.
Caleb Peters knows how to beautifully translate catchy indie pop into stripped-down acoustic tunes.
The Livonia singer-songwriter will make his first live appearance at the Farmington Civic Theater Feb. 21 to open for Bones Maki and the Blue Water Boys as part of the “LIVE!” 2020 winter concert series. Special guest Rochelle Clark also will open the show.
“I think I’m doing four of my own songs, one of which is out called ‘Hellbent,’ and ‘Catch You,’ which is a song I haven’t released yet, and another one that’s not released, which is called ‘When You Were Mine,’ and one that is released called ‘Jane Doe,’” said Peters, who will perform solo with just an acoustic guitar. “I’ve been watching videos of people performing there just to get an idea of what it’s like.”
At age 16, Peters has amassed an impressive collection of shimmering indie pop music with five singles and a five-track EP, “Exaggerated Experiences, Part One,” in 2019 alone. He comes from a creative family with both parents as musicians and a father who’s a trained opera singer and vocal coach.
While growing up, Peters played piano and started singing in eighth grade to impress girls. Now a Stevenson High School junior, he writes and records regularly in his home studio with older brother Christian, who’s a music technology sophomore at Wayne State University.
“We basically renovated our basement with the intention of having a studio down there as soon as I started getting into writing music. We basically just made a little booth in the closet with a bunch of blankets, and that’s our setup,” Peters said.
Peters recently recorded and released his latest single, “Parties,” a groovy synth-filled cautionary tale about growing up too soon – “You can’t wait for college, but that shit ain’t about knowledge/It’s just a way out, this small town feels too crowded/You hate the masses, no one has your back/You drink yourself to madness/What do you want, what do you want?”
“It’s kind of like thinking that everything is OK in the moment when you’re doing a bunch of things off the cuff. It’s like saying it seems fine now, but it might not work out, and you might lose people in the process. It’s like a happy-sounding song, but it’s like a warning from a friend,” said Peters, who’s inspired by singer-songwriter Alec Benjamin.
Peters also released the emotional track, “Hellbent,” which features vibrant acoustic guitar and sparse piano interspersed with dreamy vocals – “Sitting in the basement, wondering where the time went/Thinking about the time spent, I’m old enough to face it/But not enough to forget cuz you know I’m hellbent.”
“It’s more personal about me and stuff that I’ve gone through,” Peters said. “Hellbent is more about feeling betrayed by someone.”
Three other striking tracks, “Six Speed,” “Jane Doe” and “John Doe” nicely showcase Peters’ continued growth as an emerging singer-songwriter and producer. He’s continuing to experiment with different songwriting styles and production techniques to hone his sound for additional single releases as well as another EP or a full-length album.
“Originally, I had a whole album planned out and everything, but I’ve made so many more songs that I’m happy with that I’m kind of figuring out a different track list,” Peters said. “I’m still probably going to have those songs on the album because that was the idea with those singles – ‘Parties,’ ‘Hellbent’ and ‘Six Speed.’ They probably still will. I think I’m going to release one more single and then a project.”
For Petty’s newest album and first in nearly a decade, the Saginaw folk rock singer-songwriter dives headfirst into a wondrous musical realm that exists between day and night. It’s the vivid, haunting place where dreams mimic real life, but quickly dissipate once the sun rises.
“I thought I knew what it was going to be when the songs first started coming. I didn’t necessarily sit down to write an album. I was inspired by an idea and then wrote a song. Eventually, they all came together, and I didn’t know why. In hindsight, I feel like it was more of looking at who people are and how they get to where they are,” said Petty, who dropped her new album today.
“It’s more like an observation of the real side of people, and that’s a very broad thing from murder ballads to contemplating how we fit into this vast universe, and we fall all across the spectrum every single day. It feels like a complete thought instead of just one idea that I decided to investigate at length. It just feels like lots of aspects of the same person.”
Petty eloquently explores those different sides throughout her magical 11-track observation. In a sense, she serves as an oracle predicting which scenarios or paths will best guide people toward their destiny. The glorious opener, “The Dreams That Are Waiting for Us,” urges people to follow their instincts, realize their potential and overcome obstacles to fulfill their lifelong dreams.
Deep synths, bright guitars and dramatic drum taps nicely echo Petty’s larger-than-life vocals – “In the sky there’s a lullaby/And you cannot hear it until you close your eyes/These are the dreams that are waiting for us/When you sleep there’s a melody/It will play in you the way it plays in me/These are the dreams that are waiting for us.”
“The first one was based on words that my daughter said to me. She’s just the coolest kid, and she inspired me like crazy. I love where the song came from,” Petty said. “I don’t write a lot of optimistic songs, not that there’s a lot of optimism in that song, but it just feels very uplifting to me in some way. I love the instrumentation, and it’s kind of rocking on some weird level.”
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.”
The metro Detroit singer-songwriter will headline his first show for “Friday Night Live,” a fall and winter concert series he’s curated, produced and emceed for nearly three years.
“I get to play some of my own stuff and go through my catalog to see what might connect with the audience. I’ll also do some covers, so you might hear The Beatles, Carole King or an Eagles tune,” Birchler said. “The trick is to weave the covers and originals in such a way that the show has a flow and make it entertaining from front to back.”
Birchler will perform an acoustic set with his brother David Birchler and include special guest Bobby G, a Livonia blues rock singer-songwriter and guitarist.
“I have some stuff in the set that has to do with family, I’m going to do a song called ‘That’s My Mom,’” he said. “I’ve also got some songs about love, and I’m going to do a tribute to my fallen ‘brother’ Tommy Anderson.”
A Farmington music mainstay, Birchler launched the “Friday Night Live” concert series in January 2017 after discovering the theater’s potential as a live music venue. He approached theater general manager Scott Freeman about hosting the concert series in the upstairs 130-seat theater, which now doubles as one of southeast Michigan’s premier listening rooms.
Together, Birchler and Freeman, who met each other while working at Farmington’s Rhythms in Riley Park summer concert series in 2014, wanted to offer a live music experience on Friday nights and expand the theater’s offering beyond movies in downtown Farmington.
For the “Friday Night Live” series, they opted for three shows in the fall and four in the winter. To prepare for each show, Birchler books performances and handles sound while Freeman oversees promotion and venue needs.
“I knew it was a good room, and the size was right,” said Birchler, who also books and produces several Michigan-based shows through Go2Guy Productions and performs regularly for seniors. “I thought this would be an awesome venue for live music. I’m really lucky to be able to do stuff in that venue. Going forward, I hope that it’s something we can do more often.”