Bring to Life – Jeff Socia Provides Thoughtful ‘Release’ on New Debut Album

Jeff Socia performs live in northern Michigan. Photo courtesy of Jeff Socia

Four years ago, Jeff Socia decided to reenter the Michigan music scene.

The Traverse City Americana singer-songwriter created a home studio, started playing live shows and honed his songwriting chops.  Socia continued to build his momentum until last March when COVID-19 hit and instantly shuttered the live music world.

“I started booking some stuff on my own, and then last year happened. It’s probably a story you’ve heard a lot from other people – the lockdown was the time they were going to record and release something. I decided to go along with that story and take it one step further,” he said.

Nine months later, Socia dropped his thoughtful, melodic full-length debut album, Release, via all streaming platforms. The fervent 10-track project whips listeners down cozy, winding alt country roads filled with life-changing tales of love, growth, gratitude and risk.

“Everyone needs a release a right now, and this one happened to be mine. Hopefully, when someone listens to it, this can be their release. It’s been cool for me to hear from people who listen to my songs from elsewhere,” Socia said.

“I’ve gotten feedback from people in Ireland and other places. What we do here touches other people, and it’s their release. You never know what you’re going to put out there and how it’s going to affect someone. That’s why I called it Release.”

Continue reading “Bring to Life – Jeff Socia Provides Thoughtful ‘Release’ on New Debut Album”

A Man for All Seasons – Steve Somers Jazzes Up WCC’s Winter Semester Music Classes

Steve Somers performs at Grove Studios in Ypsilanti. Photo by Kyla McGrath and mural by Joanna Farben

For Steve Somers, jazz weathers all seasons, especially winter.

The Ypsilanti guitarist-composer will share his longtime love of jazz, guitar and music through virtual winter semester courses for aspiring musicians at Washtenaw Community College (WCC).

Starting Jan. 11, Somers will teach Creative Jazz and Improvisation I & II (MUS 105-106) and Beginning and Intermediate Guitar (MUS 133-134) to 20 students per class.

All classes will include a combination of online class meetings with individual consultation and assistance with varying recording projects as well as virtual recitals. Students can now enroll for these online winter classes through WCC’s website.

“The jazz and improvisation classes allow students to work on different songs each semester and learn about jazz and improvisation concepts. They submit solos and parts online, which I mix in my studio at Alley Records to create an audio recording,” Somers said.

“The guitar classes combine both beginning and intermediate students in one class. Beginners work on basic chords and strumming patterns while the intermediate students work on melodies, solo concepts and more advanced bar chords.”

Somers also will bring in Ann Arbor hip-hop artist and Grove Studios marketing head Max Preissner, aka Max Price, to offer a social media class for music students through WCC. Management for Working Artists (MUS 285) will help musicians learn how to promote their own music through social media.

“Many of the students are interested in eventually writing their own music, and Max will help them learn more about how to market it and utilize social media,” Somers said.

As another course offering, Somers will offer a virtual non-credit Community Jazz Orchestra class through WCC that starts Feb. 24. For those seeking financial assistance, WCC’s Emeritus Scholarships provide free tuition for Washtenaw County residents age 65 and older who enroll in non-credit and credit courses, including music.

Outside of the Community Jazz Orchestra, Somers will teach a virtual Ypsilanti Youth Jazz and Music Theory Class starting Jan. 9 for students ages 9 to 18. Adults are welcome to participate as mentors and learn more about jazz music and theory.

Continue reading “A Man for All Seasons – Steve Somers Jazzes Up WCC’s Winter Semester Music Classes”

Made to Heal – The Stratton Playlist December 2020 Edition Provides Soothing Escape

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.

The latest edition of The Stratton Playlist provides an introspective sonic path for healing, reflection and growth. Featured musical healers and friends include Lily Milo, Meredith Shock, Mark Jewett, The Soods, Dani Darling, Joss Jaffe, Ava Panza, Blaksmith, Dirt Room and more.

Thank you for everyone who supported The Stratton Setlist in 2020. It’s an honor to feature you and the share wonderful music you create today and tomorrow. Interested in becoming part of The Stratton Playlist on Spotify? Send your submissions to strattonsetlist@yahoo.com. All artists and genres welcome.

Gold Mine – The Soods Uncover Rich Collaborations, Treasured Tracks on ‘Ornaments of Affection’

The Soods’ latest album, “Ornaments of Affection,” features collaborations with Grand Rapids artists, songwriters and musicians. Album artwork – Dominic Ryan Photography

Jason Roy thoroughly mines for Michigan music gold.

The Soods frontman uncovers rich collaborations and treasured tracks with a growing collective of scintillating local artists, songwriters and musicians on his latest indie folk-psych rock musical gem, Ornaments of Affection.

“I pared it down from a list of 36 songs; those were the ones to get vocals on, and from there I followed through with 22 of those. Some of those are the newer singles that I’ve been putting out. It was a fun thing like, ‘Well, I haven’t put any music out in a while,’” said Roy, who released the album in October via GTG Records.

“For ‘Morning Harold!’ and ‘Nomadic Marine Biologist,’ I’ve had those two instrumentals for eight months. I just hadn’t gotten vocals on them yet, and then when it came time to make that list of 36, I was like, ‘Ooh, I like that title,’ and I remember liking this track. It was like, ‘Two check marks, you’re in,’ and then figuring out from there who fits best.”

Throughout Ornaments of Affection, Roy beautifully melds 13 priceless Soods folky, trippy tracks with a talented array of Grand Rapids collaborators, including Steven Meltzer, Matt Ten Clay, Shane Tripp, Patrick Wieland, Drinking Mercury’s Timmy Rodriguez and others.

“These guys have their own ways with words, and weirdly somehow it all does sound like a band if I keep the thematic elements constant. Like having Matt Ten Clay sing the backing vocals on a track strengthens the foundation of that illusion of like, ‘These guys got together in the studio for a week and pounded these songs out.’ If you only saw all our emails and Google drives, it’s very different,” said Roy with a laugh.

“It’s a great compliment when people are like, ‘Oh yeah, I like that band.’ That’s what I want; I don’t necessarily need it to be a Jason Roy brainchild thing. I enjoy collaborating with these guys.”

Continue reading “Gold Mine – The Soods Uncover Rich Collaborations, Treasured Tracks on ‘Ornaments of Affection’”

Virtual Migration – Ann Arbor’s Ebird & Friends Holiday Show Lands Online Saturday

Saturday’s show will be streamed on Facebook and YouTube. Artwork courtesy of Erin Zindle

For Erin Zindle, this year’s Ebird & Friends Holiday Show will migrate to a new format.

The Ragbirds frontwoman and multi-instrumentalist will present the beloved Ann Arbor holiday show virtually Saturday through a free, one-night livestream performance via Facebook and YouTube.

“The pandemic has forced creative people to get extra creative if they want to continue making their art and sharing it with a world in isolation. This is the 13th year I’ve produced the Ebird & Friends Holiday Show, but it’s an entirely different experience in this virtual format. I’ve had to rethink it from the ground up with safety as a top priority,” Zindle said.

Formerly presented live at The Ark over four sold-out nights, this year’s online show will feature a mix of pre-recorded videos interspersed with live performances and virtual special guest cameos. To protect artists and crew members, Zindle implemented a number of rigorous safety protocols throughout the show’s development and production.

“We are filming the production in a large warehouse space where we’ve measured plenty of distance between us, and there is a large rolling door that we open regularly to air out the room. All the crew and artists are masked, with the only exception being the lead singers and horn players who remove their masks for the final video takes,” said Zindle, who teamed up with Allen Audio and Birdhouse Productions to record the show’s performances.

“We all isolated ourselves as much as possible prior to the event, and most have taken COVID tests to be extra cautious. I created a schedule where the featured artists show up by appointment to avoid overlap and reduce our exposure to each other. Like everyone else we have had to make a series of hard choices and sacrifices to keep ourselves and each other safe.”

In light this year’s pandemic challenges, the show will still retain its fun variety-style format and holiday setlist with a star-studded Michigan lineup of new and returning acts.

Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds, The Native Howl’s Alex Holycross, The Accidentals, The Sweet Water Warblers, Seth Bernard, Mark Lavengood, The Gasoline Gypsies, Madelyn Grant, The Crane Wives’ Emilee Petersmark, Shake Steady’s Sean Ike, Dave Boutette and Kristi Lynn Davis, Jen Sygit and others will grace the show’s virtual stage. Comedian Shelly Smith will emcee and introduce the artists from a separate stage set.

“When choosing artists I always try to keep diversity and flow in mind to create a dynamic show with a variety of styles represented. This year I chose artists that have already been involved in past shows and decided to repeat a few favorite songs we already knew,” said Zindle, who formed The Ragbirds in 2005.

“I knew we would not have much if any rehearsal time, and I wanted to simplify the amount of songs we had to learn. We did the new song arrangements via Zoom meetings and shared demo iPhone recordings so we could show up ready to roll the camera.”

Continue reading “Virtual Migration – Ann Arbor’s Ebird & Friends Holiday Show Lands Online Saturday”

False Note – Joss Jaffe Uncovers Empty Political ‘Promises’ with Mykal Rose

Joss Jaffe unearths political fallacies on “Promises,” with reggae legend Mykal Rose. Photo – Kim Jae Yoon

For Joss Jaffe, today’s global political climate runs rampant with false promises.

The Oakland, California world music singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist shares this widely held notion in his latest reggae-infused single, “Promises,” with Mykal Rose.

“Ultimately, I think politics is always divisive. Peter Tosh would call it ‘politricks.’ But yes, this period in time has been especially unprecedented. Although I do not call out Trump by name in this song and take the approach of an old-school reggae song, where we speak in metaphors and allegory stories, clearly it references the cascade of lies and falsehoods that seem to never end,” Jaffe said.

“However, yes, the song also speaks to the timeless, and sadly, seemingly ever relevant problems this poor type of leadership brings, and it’s not just limited to the U.S.”

Throughout “Promises,” Jaffe and Rose quickly unstitch the increasing fallacies Trump and other controversial political figures continually weave into society’s fraying fabric. Vibrant horns, thumping drums, bouncy bass, breezy synths, spirited organ and peppy electric guitar seamlessly undo each tumultuous thread.

Rose eagerly chants, “Promises are a comfort to a fool/All they wanna give is promises/We know the golden rule/Yet they wanna use you like a footstool.” In response, Jaffe soulfully sings, “Step on you to reach that goal/And cast you aside when you played your role/Promises that keep on saying/But then you look at them and see they’d never change.”

“My vision for this song is something that’s uplifting and triumphant over adversity. Something that rises above the current moment, however difficult it is, and gets back in touch with the universal consciousness,” Jaffe said.

With honest, reflective lyrics and a hypnotic reggae sway, Jaffe and Rose triumph with “Promises” as a fitting theme song for our turbulent political and social times. The track serves as the duo’s second dynamic collaboration since the divine, glistening “Elohim” with Shimshai in 2015 for Jaffe’s Dub Mantra Sangha album.

“Mykal Rose has always been one of my longtime heroes of reggae music. We have a mutual friend named Siah who is his guitar player and produces some of his songs. Mykal is a true legend; rocksteady in the studio and always pushing everyone to capture their best possible take. It was a true blessing,” Jaffe said.

Continue reading “False Note – Joss Jaffe Uncovers Empty Political ‘Promises’ with Mykal Rose”

Giving Voice – Carolyn Striho Relives ‘Detroit (Maiden Energy)’ Words through New Audiobook

Carolyn Striho personally narrates her new audiobook for “Detroit (Maiden Energy).” Photo – Jacx Art

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.”

Continue reading “Giving Voice – Carolyn Striho Relives ‘Detroit (Maiden Energy)’ Words through New Audiobook”

Heart to Heart – Lily Milo Explores Uncharted Emotional Territories on ‘Stars Go Out’ EP

Lily Milo shares a personal journey of self-discovery on “Stars Go Out.” Photo – Jennifer Metsker

Lily Milo delicately reveals the hidden sides of her heart.

The Ann Arbor indie folk singer-songwriter shares an intimate, poetic journey of self-discovery while navigating between life’s light and dark emotions on Stars Go Out.

“This is the first thing that I’ve ever put out. I’ve wanted to work on music for a really long time. A couple of years ago, I just sat down and said, ‘All right, if you’re gonna do it, then you’re gonna make some music,’ and it’s been awesome,” said Milo, who released the project in September.

Throughout her raw, authentic debut EP, Milo beautifully explores uncharted territories of the soul across six poignant, reflective tracks that uncover internal strength and wisdom. Each Stars Go Out song provides an intense, heartfelt outpouring of emotion from past thoughts, experiences and relationships.

“Most of them are personal. ‘Sandcastles’ is about a friend who passed away. The other ones are feelings that I’ve had and worked through, and part of the reason why it seems like a strange moody mix from the heart is because it’s all very much from the heart,” Milo said.

Continue reading “Heart to Heart – Lily Milo Explores Uncharted Emotional Territories on ‘Stars Go Out’ EP”

Beneath the Surface – Dirty Ol’ Men Reveal Tenacious Tales on ‘Six Feet’ Album

Dirty Ol’ Men recorded “Six Feet” during the first 100 days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The album’s iconic cover dates back to the Elaine Massacre of 1919 and features seven of 12 men who were wrongly prosecuted and executed for an “attempted insurrection” in Elaine, Arkansas.

For Six Feet, Dirty Ol’ Men keep it 100.

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.

Continue reading “Beneath the Surface – Dirty Ol’ Men Reveal Tenacious Tales on ‘Six Feet’ Album”

Tale from the Crypt – Melanie Pierce Buries Painful Past on ‘Your Grave’

Melanie Pierce entombs her past on “Your Grave.”

With an eye on the present, Melanie Pierce wants to leave the past dead and buried.

The Ann Arbor pop-rock singer-songwriter beautifully entombs former relationships, painful experiences and destructive thoughts into a secret crypt on “Your Grave,” a heartfelt, courageous anthem about moving forward.

“It was several situations that were not ideal and that happened at the same time. When the song was originally written, I had a lot of rage because it felt like so much was going wrong,” said Pierce, who released the track Oct. 30 via all streaming platforms.

“My mindset when I was younger was more angsty and negatively focused, and I was in a band at the time, and they were breaking up and a relationship was failing. It felt like too much at the time, and this song was born out of it.” 

Throughout “Your Grave,” murky, alternating synths ping-pong between yesterday and today while pulsating drums, calm bass and intermittent piano ultimately lower Pierce’s past six feet underground.

She bravely sings, “Turn left because I ran out of rights/Done pretending to be so nice/So formal like we’re supposed to/Keepin’ tabs on people livin’ my dream/I’m livin’ with the ghost you left for me/Remember when you said this was just a dream/And that’s all it will ever be/I’ve been pickin’ up the pieces slowly.”

“It’s taking the next step and acknowledging things aren’t going your way and have ended. I’m literally speaking through the lyrics that I’m throwing this in a grave, moving on and seeing the other side of the bad situation and stepping into a positive, new beginning,” Pierce said.

“I think everybody has the ability to change in all aspects of life, and I feel like I’ve shifted toward a much healthier perspective. Being able to cope with change also comes with time as you grow and learn more about yourself and the world around you. I was put on this planet to make music, write songs and perform. I’ve really stepped into the artist that I’ve always wanted to become and learned how to navigate this musical journey.”

Continue reading “Tale from the Crypt – Melanie Pierce Buries Painful Past on ‘Your Grave’”