Second Chances – Youssef Salloum Goes from Beirut to ‘Believe’ on New Random Ties EP

Random Ties’ KD Murray, Youssef Salloum and Thew Vayle. Photo courtesy of Random Ties

Youssef Salloum believes the best things in life aren’t planned.

The Random Ties vocalist-guitarist elegantly weaves a lifetime of chance encounters and unexpected lessons into a new introspective, grungy debut EP, Believe, with Ann Arbor bandmates Thew Vayle (guitar), Steven Silvis (bass) and KD Murray (drums).

Believe is inspired by the roller coaster ride we go through touching on subjects, such a losing a loved one, difficulties in starting a family, struggling with faith and moving on. All the songs were written with a high-energy, feel-good vibe and a dynamic sound topped with an honest message,” Salloum said.

Originally from Beirut, Salloum spent more than two decades making Believe an alt rock-fueled reality after putting music aside for different careers, personal relationships and international moves. The EP thoughtfully represents a renewed self-commitment to creativity, motivation and persistence in a disconnected world of musical uncertainty.

“The song ‘Believe’ says ‘There was a time I lost a dream.’ It’s never too late, and no matter how hard it feels, things get better if you hang in there long enough. At the time, I had made the decision to see how I was going to make a living while having music as a hobby instead of a career. My intention was to be a musician, but at the end of the day, when you look at what’s going on around you, there was no internet, and there was no social media,” said Salloum, who returned to Ann Arbor in November 2018.

Along with his Random Ties bandmates, Salloum poetically chronicles his international musical journey through six heartfelt alt rock anthems. Together, those profound Believe tracks represent a highly relatable narrative about overcoming personal struggles regardless of age, geography or culture.

Week 39 to Why

One of those struggles includes eagerly awaiting the birth of a child after overcoming years of infertility on the Pearl Jam-tinged “Week 39.” Now a father, Salloum poignantly addresses the anxiety-induced anticipation of son Liam’s arrival during his wife’s 39th week of pregnancy.

Piercing, distorted electric guitars, pulsating drums, rhythmic cymbal taps and humming bass entice Liam leave the womb as Salloum throatily beckons, “Son, this song is all for you/All I have is all for you/Son, this song is about you/All I am is all I am for you.”

“Those last few weeks of anxiety were more than all the previous nine months put together. You want him to be safe more than anything else in life and then suddenly Liam was born and in our arms. It was a special time because it wasn’t easy for us to get pregnant, and it was the most powerful moment in our lives,” Salloum said.

Continue reading “Second Chances – Youssef Salloum Goes from Beirut to ‘Believe’ on New Random Ties EP”

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”

Summer Sounds – The Stratton Playlist Test-Drives New Tracks with June 2020 Edition

As summer kicks into high gear, get ready to test-drive a new batch of tunes from emerging local and regional artists.

The June edition of “The Stratton Playlist” will gain traction with grungy alt rock, lo-fi jazzy soul, inspirational pop rock, indie folk, bouncy pop punk, dancy pop, melodic prog rock, bouncy pop punk and uplifting country.

Featured artists include Random Ties, Dani Darling, Trey Simon, Mason Summit, U Might Be Mine, Anthony Retka, Louis Picasso and more. Get behind the wheel and ride into the sunset with the picture-perfect soundtrack.

Interested in becoming part of “The Stratton Playlist” on Spotify? Send your submissions to strattonsetlist@yahoo.com. All artists and genres are welcome.

Techno Tribute – Doogatron Honors Andrew Weatherall’s Artistic Legacy on New ‘Audrey Witherspoon’ Single

Doogatron’s latest single wraps fuzzy shoegaze guitars, scratchy hip-hop sensibilities, jazzy sax solos and cosmic, reverby vocals into a nonstop club jam. Artwork – Rachel Maitland

Doogatron brilliantly channels the artistic spirit and creative legacy of the late Andrew Weatherall.

The Ypsilanti techno duo of Stevie Tee and Kyle (and occasional trio with Michael) seamlessly stitches midtempo acid house, breakbeat techno and dreamy shoegaze into their latest interstellar Weatherall tribute single, “Audrey Witherspoon.”

Out now via all streaming platforms, “Audrey Witherspoon” beautifully celebrates Weatherall’s illustrious career as an acclaimed U.K.-based DJ, producer and artist who remixed tracks by Happy Mondays, New Order, Björk and My Bloody Valentine. He also added samples, loops and mixes on Primal Scream’s 1991 Mercury Prize-winning album, Screamadelica.

“It’s named ‘Audrey Witherspoon’ based on a pen name he used for gig reviews he wrote prior to his production career. The sequenced acid house bassline coupled with the big shoegaze fuzz guitar and midtempo swagger reminded me a lot of the late ‘80s, early ‘90s second summer of love, ‘Madchester’ sound, so when Andrew passed, it felt right,” Tee said.

Together, Doogatron injects the right amount of high-frequency, intergalactic beats and pulsating bass into the energetic, frenzied techno world of “Audrey Witherspoon.”

The nine-minute astral track also beautifully wraps fuzzy shoegaze guitars, scratchy hip-hop sensibilities, jazzy sax solos from Jamie Goldsmith and cosmic, reverby vocals into a nonstop club jam. (Tee also created a groovy “Gazing at Shoes” mix of music inspired by and taken from outtakes while recording “Audrey Witherspoon.”)

“‘Audrey Witherspoon’ was more in the moment with the two of us getting into a new workflow and trying to fill out as much sound as possible. Instead of Kyle just doing the drum machine or drum programming, he was also doing the bassline sequencing, and that freed me up to start playing guitar and getting into some tones,” said Tee, who also did the vocals for the track.

Continue reading “Techno Tribute – Doogatron Honors Andrew Weatherall’s Artistic Legacy on New ‘Audrey Witherspoon’ Single”

Musical Shapeshifter – Andy Reed Undergoes Personal Transformation on Introspective ‘Relay, Vol. 2’ EP

Andy Reed flexes his pop-rock songwriting muscle on “Relay, Vol. 2.”

Andy Reed quickly morphs from one musical role to another.

The Bay City pop-rock singer-songwriter seamlessly shifts from acclaimed producer to multi-instrumental collaborator to introspective artist on his latest soaring solo EP, Relay Vol. 2. It’s his second release in a growing series of Relay EPs dedicated to highly-personal, contemplative songs written amidst other projects.

“The songs themselves are a little bit different than I typically write; I am from the power pop school of The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Over the years, I’ve worked with so many artists like Michael Robertson, J.D. Dominowski and Amy Petty, and this is more on singer-songwriter side, and I love that kind of music,” Reed said.

“My goal with this was to be a little more Dawes and be a little more Jason Isbell, but in the background my McCartney-isms are still going to come through, and that kind of stuff too because that’s who I am. I tried to think of it a little bit more from the storyteller’s perspective, and I just wanted to flex that muscle to see if I could do it.”

Reed strongly flexes his songwriting muscle on five poignant tracks about long-lost friends, newfound love, sci-fi journeys, family struggles and childhood nostalgia. He wrote and recorded the reflective Relay, Vol. 2 earlier this year in his home-based Reed Recording Company studio while producing projects for other Michigan artists and working on an upcoming album for The Legal Matters.

“They were all kind of recent personal things that I observed, and it’s definitely my most personal record. I wanted to write new songs because I’ve already handed over the songs for this newest Legal Matters record that we’re gonna do. It’s all the stuff I love about music in a little five-song thing,” said Reed, who played all the instruments on Relay, Vol. 2.

Answering the Call for Ennio Floyd

Reed beautifully opens Relay, Vol. 2 with a shocked response to unexpectedly hearing from a former love interest. “Answer the Call” blends drifting electric guitars, dreamy acoustic strums and soft drums as Reed reflects, “Build the perfect version of a life/Sometimes I can get in the way/Makes it harder each day/No looking back to try to make it right/We’re all better off in the end/Don’t even try to pretend/Seeing all that you took from me/Won’t make it better now/Wonder why you’d think of me at all/I won’t answer the call.”

“I have a buddy who recently went through a separation, and we were sitting together, and his ex called him, and so he saw the number flashing, and said, ‘Oh man, I wonder what that could be for?’ All these emotions just went through his head in like five seconds. What could this be? I was like, ‘Well, we’ve all felt that before.’ Someone calls you that you haven’t talked to in years. Did somebody die? Do they miss me? What is this all about? Don’t they remember they were a jerk to me?” Reed said.

Continue reading “Musical Shapeshifter – Andy Reed Undergoes Personal Transformation on Introspective ‘Relay, Vol. 2’ EP”

Desmond Jones Calls for Global Accountability, Change on New ‘George Floyd’ Single, Video

Desmond Jones emphatically speaks for countless voices lost to racial injustice.

The Grand Rapids rock-funk-jazz quintet of Isaac Berkowitz (guitar, vocals), John Nowak (drums), Chris Bota (guitars) George Falk (sax) and Taylor Watson (bass) strongly calls for global accountability, peace and unity on their thought-provoking new single and video, “George Floyd.”

Out today, it serves as a growing rally cry from the band and protesters worldwide after the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Desmond Jones has released “George Floyd” exclusively via Bandcamp and will donate half of the proceeds to the NAACP Grand Rapids and the other half to The Bail Project, a national organization that provides free bail assistance to low-income individuals who are legally presumed innocent.

“At the very least, I hope that it acts as a reminder of George Floyd’s story and the countless stories just like it that happen every day in this country without any repercussions. I hope that it makes people say his name and talk about why or how this could have happened,” said Berkowitz, who wrote the track.

Floyd, 46, died after Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police offer, kneeled on his neck and back for more than eight minutes during an arrest. Two other officers further restrained Floyd while a third prevented onlookers from intervening. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder while Kiernan Lane, Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao have been charged with second-degree aiding and abetting felony murder as well as second-degree aiding and abetting manslaughter.

In response, Desmond Jones’ compelling “George Floyd” single features thoughtful, echoey electric guitars, soft drums and somber sax as Berkowitz seriously reflects, “I can’t breathe he said, the cycle of oppression/Leaves only one direction to be led/I can’t breathe he said, as we heard the pain of generations past and present pled.”

“I hope that it helps people understand that this behavior and complacency of that behavior is unacceptable in this country and on this planet. With the help of the amazing video Nathan Purchase made, I think this song can show how important these issues are to people and what a serious impact our voices can have when we come together to peacefully make the change that needs to happen,” Berkowitz said.

The impactful “George Floyd” video features raw, candid black and white photos of protesters peacefully marching in Grand Rapids, Detroit, Muskegon and Columbus, Ohio. Five local, independent photographers – Nathan Purchase, Nick Small, Adam Berta, James Saville and Ryan Broton – captured and compiled the historical images during last week’s protests.

“They were able to not only capture and convey the tension and the anger of the situation, but also the unifying demand for peace and unity. Each one of these photographers was able to capture a wider image of the state of our country currently. To see how all these different people from all over were coming together in the middle of a pandemic is a powerful thing to see,” Berkowitz said.

George Floyd” also serves as Desmond Jones’ second new single and video in less than two months. In April, the band released “Major Burbank” as an ode to Jim Carrey’s legendary performance in the 1998 Academy Award-nominated film, “The Truman Show.” While “Major Burbank” celebrates a lighter side of Desmond Jones’ sound, “George Floyd” pushes the band musically and thematically toward a burgeoning political and social conscience.

“I know we are currently working on more songs that approach these political and social issues, which will be a big step forward for us lyrically and content-wise. However, besides more songs, we have been raising and donating money through livestreams and promoting our favorite local and national black artists, musicians and social leaders on social media,” Berkowitz said.

“We also have been directing people toward charities that are helping as well as local black-owned businesses to shop at. In a way, I think we’ve started to find our voice politically and don’t plan on quieting down. We are lucky enough to have a platform and right now we believe it’s right to use that to help fight against social injustice and shine a light on those who are doing all that they can to make a difference.”

Free Flow – Alluvial Fans Deposits Raw, Refined Musical Sediments on New ‘Earth to Astronaut’ Album

Alluvial Fans’ new album explores multi-genre peaks and valleys, atypical song structures and varied tempos. Album artwork – Antoine Langenieux-Villard

Detroit’s Alluvial Fans beautifully deposits raw and refined musical sediments on their solid new album, Earth to Astronaut.

Out now via all streaming platforms, Earth to Astronaut freely flows through indie rock mountains, art punk hills and garage jazz canyons to form a new fertile sound. Through these multi-genre peaks and valleys, atypical song structures and varied tempos, Alluvial Fans’ second album deeply explores the spaces between distorted, mosh-worthy cathartic freak-outs and quiet, sentimental and reflective moments.

“Sometimes your mind goes, and you find yourself jumping from place to place. And that’s sort of how my mind was working at the time and how it has been just kind of scattershot, and now I’m more aware of that. I wanted to represent that kind of fragmented or abstract thought in the lyrics, and in sum, I wanted to become more precise,” said Drew Bartosik, Alluvial Fans’ vocalist-guitarist.

“For the past two years, I’ve been practicing meditation and trying to become more self-aware and mindful of my thoughts and how I act in my environment. Things now are becoming more focused and cohesive for song ideas, and I wanted to highlight the vulnerability in that respect.”

Bartosik and his Alluvial Fans bandmates Gilad Granot (bass) and Ollie Elkus (drums) venture deep beneath the Earth to Astronaut surface to examine a juxtaposition of themes, including technology and nature, independence and interdependence, and reflection, solidarity, and devotion, over 10 expansive, metaphysical tracks.

From ‘Blowouts’ to ‘Droves’

Together, they weave an erratic, yet refreshing jazz-punk-garage-rock fusion on their latest single, “Blowout/Future Games,” which starts with light cymbal taps and delicate electric guitar and quickly erupts into a frantic musical cataclysm.

During the “Blowout” section, Bartosik eagerly shouts, “Yeah!/You never look me in the eyes these days/You’re so far gone/You’re so far” and memorably repeats, “Two for my friends/One for myself.” The first half also serves as a scintillating ode to the Detroit-Hamtramck indie rock scene.

Next, “Blowout” seamlessly segues to the mellow, thoughtful “Future Games” section with light drums, calm vocals and easygoing electric guitar strums. Bartosik quietly sings, “If the future’s playing games with me?/Who is the player playing games?/It’s just the future playing games with me/It’s just the future playing games.” Here, Alluvial Fans questions the uncertainty that lies ahead, especially in an unthinkable year like 2020.

Continue reading “Free Flow – Alluvial Fans Deposits Raw, Refined Musical Sediments on New ‘Earth to Astronaut’ Album”

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”

The Getaway – Adventures with Vultures Brings Cinematic Feel to New ‘Speaking French’ Single

Adventures with Vultures escapes the doldrums of everyday working life on “Speaking French.”

Adventures with Vultures makes the perfect musical getaway.

The Plymouth indie folk-rock singer-songwriter quickly escapes the doldrums of everyday working life on his latest audacious single, “Speaking French,” which dropped today via all streaming platforms.

“This is one of the first songs I’ve ever co-written. I usually write everything alone, but I went over to Jimmy Showers’ house one night for band practice, and I said, ‘I’ve got this little new tune.’ This was in December maybe, and I had the hook already done. The verses were empty, but I had a melody, and we were spitballing random stuff,” said Matt Sauter, aka Adventures with Vultures.

“It was gonna be about a drunk dude who got everything ripped away from him, and then once the girl started chiming in, it became more of a love song about two people down on their luck, but together they can get through it.”

For the cinema-inspired track, Sauter collaborated with Jackamo’s Ali Wiercioch and Tess Wiercioch (harmony vocals), Dalton Thomas (drums), brother Dan Sauter (bass) and Showers (guitar) at Plymouth Rock Recording Company. As a 3.5-minute sonic road trip, “Speaking French” beautifully blends swift acoustic strums, deep electric guitar, pounding kick drum and rattling cymbals.

In turn, Sauter gravelly sings in Springsteen-esque vocals, “We joined the circus, and we both changed our names/Sold that ’57 Chevy, starting jumping trains/And we flew to Paris and started speaking French/Till she found a corner out there to help pay the rent.”

Throughout “Speaking French,” Sauter chronicles the high-flying adventures of working-class fictional couple who follow the open road. Together, they represent a spontaneous road-trip relationship akin to Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette (minus the violence) in 1993’s “True Romance.” The track also references several pop culture gems, including “Billie Jean,” “River Jordan” and Credence Clearwater Revival’s 1971 Top 10 single, “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”

“I was strumming that riff over at their house, and while we were taking a break, I was picking at it, and Ali kept going, ‘I wanna know have you ever seen the rain?’ We thought it would be cool to tie that into the bridge without stealing it. We made it sound like the girl in her bare feet saying that little part,” Sauter said.

“When I write songs, I don’t really have any structure. I just started humming, and I kept humming ‘River Jordan’ and ‘Billie Jean.’ I was just saying that in the hook, and I’m like, ‘Oh, OK.’”

Continue reading “The Getaway – Adventures with Vultures Brings Cinematic Feel to New ‘Speaking French’ Single”

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”