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 Nashville country-pop singer-songwriter candidly reflects on outgrowing her hometown, cherishing childhood memories and finding a renewed sense of purpose on “Maybe This Isn’t Home,” a poignant, cinematic ode to new beginnings, now available on all streaming platforms.
“I went home for a long weekend for a wedding, and one of my best friends was getting married. I remember staying in my parents’ home, and I was in my shared bedroom with my sister. Everything had changed, and I was like, ‘I feel like a stranger,’ and I felt like I was a guest visiting. Nothing felt like it was mine anymore; I had to live out of my suitcase in my own bedroom,” said Shock about that memorable trip home in August 2019.
“I love my family, and I love that town, but I was missing Nashville. I felt like I was missing out on things that were happening in Nashville. I had made new friends and had new experiences here in a new environment where I now call home. I’ve created a space here that feels a lot more like home.”
Throughout “Maybe This Isn’t Home,” Shock elegantly strolls down memory lane as submerged alternating synths, shiny twirling electric guitars, intermittent electronic drums, glistening keys and calm bass recall vivid loving memories of growing up outside Washington, D.C.
She nostalgically sings, “There’s this painting in the closet that my sister did/In the bedroom that we shared since we were kids/Down the street I still remember where I had my first kiss/Holding hands under the pillows in my basement/And I walked to school until I learned how to drive/I was cheering on a team under those Friday night lights/I swear those times were golden and I can’t forget/But it’s time for me to move on and start again.”
“For me, it’s creating new memories here. When I’m singing ‘Maybe This Isn’t Home,’ all my memories have to do with that town I grew up in. Two or three of my brothers played on the football team, and I always went to the football games to support them,” Shock said.
“Those are the memories that are so my hometown; whereas here in Nashville I’ve never been to a high school football game. It’s like creating a different memory completely and having those special moments that make you feel like home. It didn’t start to feel like Nashville was home until I was here for almost two years.”
Shock started working on her latest track a year ago with Nashville producers James Robertson and Jay Tooke. Together, they spent several months recording “Maybe This Isn’t Home” and finalized it before the start of spring quarantine.
“It was really cool to work with them in the studio while they were trying to think of the best way to produce it. Normally, I just write my songs with me and my guitar, so it’s cool to hear a full track. They did a good job at making it feel nostalgic, and it doesn’t have a slow super sad song kind of vibe. You can bop your head to it,” she said.
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.
The Nashville pop singer-songwriter sprinkles hopeful words of wisdom and growth after recovering from heartbreak on her latest poignant, three-track EP, The Tracking Room Sessions, which dropped May 1 via all streaming platforms.
“I think at that time in my life I was going through a lot of that in different areas. A lot of times for me, breakup songs are so much more than that. I think there’s a lot of loss in different areas of my life, and that was just the best way that I could articulate it,” Pederson said.
Pederson beautifully articulates her personal reflections about love and loss throughout her fourth piano-centric release recorded at The Tracking Room in Nashville. Soulful, emotive vocals and hypnotic, uplifting piano chords immerse listeners in spirit-healing waters after experiencing the unexpected sting of rejection.
That first drop of relief arrives in “Quiet Waters,” which blends deep, sparse piano, delicate bass and sweeping drum brushes with Pederson’s melancholy, velvety vocals as she laments, “Take me back to that night/Manhattan and a glass of wine/When my hope was alive, you had that fire in your eyes/Ritter on the radio, singing I’m coming home/And the stars in the sky were aligned/All the things we didn’t know such a short time ago/All my days I thought you’d be mine.”
While initially ruminating in “Quiet Waters,” Pederson confidently embarks on a therapeutic journey throughout “Recover.” The self-assured track weaves soulful hums, rhythmic finger snaps, lingering piano, delicate synths and light bass as she emphatically declares, “I’m moving to Alaska/Lord knows I am never coming back,” and “There is no amount of red or white to calm this anxious mind.”
“‘Quiet Waters’ and ‘Recover’ were songs that I had written in June or July of last year, and I had written quite a few in that time period. Those two were the ones that stuck out to me the most,” said Pederson, who’s originally from Ann Arbor.
Perhaps Pederson’s most striking track includes a new soaring acoustic version of “The Landing” as vibrant, thoughtful piano entwines with sorrowful, optimistic vocals. Throughout her turbulent flight, Pederson tries to “soften the landing” as she sings, “Oh the road has been long and lonely/And one of my darkest nights/I swear you saved me/I was high as hope could’ve ever let me fly/And we were alone, you and I.”
The Nashville progressive rock composer and multi-instrumentalist became instantly drawn to the 1970 Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice rock opera album turned Broadway musical.
“I got it when I was 11 or 12, and I lived that album for months. That’s the way I was when I was young, I only listened to one thing at time,” said Morse, the former Spock’s Beard frontman.
Nearly 40 years later, Morse decided to write a new rock opera showcasing the Gospel at the encouragement of his friend Michael Caplan. In 2008, he embarked on a 10-year creative journey to compose and record Jesus Christ The Exorcist: A Progressive Rock Musical, a refreshing take on the timeless story of Jesus.
“At first I thought, ‘It’s been done, doing a rock musical or rock opera based on the Gospel seems like a trite thing at first,’ and then the more I thought about it, I prayed about it, I felt like, ‘Yeah, I should take a stab at it,’” Morse said.
“I’m a little bit of a one-project-at-a time guy, and so when I worked on it in 2008, I didn’t work on anything else. I only did that until it was done, and I spent about two months on it back then, and then a month demoing it. It was pretty elaborate, I had friends come in and help me sing over stuff. We worked pretty hard on the original demos because we were going to shop it as a Broadway show.”
Unfortunately, Jesus Christ The Exorcist didn’t make it to Broadway, but Morse resurrected the project and debuted it live a decade later at Morsefest, his annual two-day music festival near Nashville. By 2018, the project’s revival led to a renewed interested in releasing it.
“Michael called me up and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this, I think I’ve got a record deal for this,’ and I’m like, ‘Whoa, that’s really interesting because I’m doing the rewrite now, that’s perfect,’” Morse said.
Frontiers Music srl, an independent Italian-American record label for classic rock, hard rock, prog rock and metal artists, released Jesus Christ The Exorcist as a double album for Morse last year.
With the label’s support, Morse assembled an impressive roster of vocalists and musicians for the project, including Ted Leonard (vocals), Eric Gillette (drums, guitars), Paul Bielatowicz (guitar), Nick D’Virgilio (vocals), Randy George (bass), Bill Hubauer (keys), Matt Smith (vocals), Rick Florian (vocals), Talon David (vocals) and others.
“They really brought their style to playing. There really wasn’t much that was brought to the table in the way of composition because the whole thing was already composed. It wasn’t like the collaborativeness of The Neal Morse Band, Flying Colors or Transatlantic. It was more of ‘OK, here’s the part, play it kind of thing,’ and there was a little bit of embellishing, but not a ton on this,” said Morse, who also released a new Flying Colors album, Third Degree, in October.
The Nashville country-pop singer-songwriter beautifully plunges into her latest single and live acoustic video for “Trial Run,” a heartfelt ode to long-distance relationships.
“‘Trial Run’ was a song that I wrote about a girl I’m still dating. I’m in Nashville, and she ended up being here just for the summer, and I ended up really liking her. I was like, ‘Crap, what are we gonna do because I want to keep talking to you and seeing where this goes,’” Shock said.
“One of my best friends was like, ‘Why don’t you give it a trial run or something?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, we should,’ and we started calling it a trial run, and then that just sparked the idea for the song.”
Shock’s fervent single wraps bright intermittent synths, climbing electric guitars, clicking finger snaps and vibrant acoustic guitars into a soaring cinematic sound as she sings, “Oh, I know you’re in another state/Maybe the miles and space will give you time to think about what you need/You can give me all the excuses/I know you got your reasons/But if you’re asking me, here’s what I think.”
Initially, Shock wrote “Trial Run” as highly personal track meant solely for her partner’s ears. It started out as a raw voice memo on her phone and later morphed into mesmerizing studio and acoustic versions.
“I played it for her, and she really, really liked it. I wanted to show her how I felt, and it was directed toward her. It’s not a story, it’s really just about her. People can tell I’m singing about a specific person and not just about any experience. I’m singing to someone, which is another big thing, too,” she said.
Shock released the studio version of “Trial Run” in February and dropped a live acoustic video version for her third single today. Filmed at Nashville’s Beyond The Loops studio in December, the video features Shock performing a poignant stripped-down version of “Trial Run” with an acoustic guitar.
“When I sing live, I think there’s always a little bit more feeling rather than like a recorded produced version. I think it’s cool to see the difference between how I wrote the song with just me and my guitar versus how the song eventually played out and how it was produced,” she said.
These days, Bill Edwards views love as the soundtrack of his life.
The Ann Arbor country singer-songwriter eloquently chronicles his evolving thoughts about love on his latest album, “Sounds Like Love,” which dropped in October on Regaltone Records.
“A year ago I decided I wanted to do an album of love songs. It seems like the times we’re going through right now we can use as much love as we can get,” Edwards said. “They’re not all songs that say ‘I love you.’ Some are about the complications and the darker side of some love relationships. I think they’re at least loosely related to the concept of love.”
“Sounds Like Love” features 13 stellar tracks highlighting the ups and downs of love from different perspectives and moments in time – new love, lost love, lifelong love, past love and unrequited love. On each track, Edwards gently moves listeners from one soundbite of love to the next along a fascinating emotional path that includes paint, hurricanes and boxcars.
“I write about a song a week, and it’s just my creative outlet. I had accumulated quite a number of songs to choose from, and I just picked those 13 for the record,” he said. “I’ve long wanted to do an album all by myself in my own home studio, and I’ve accumulated an embarrassing amount of recording gear.”
As the everyday person’s troubadour, Jeremy Ivey will share thoughtful tales of the nation’s turbulent political climate mixed with personal diaspora and societal struggles at The Blind Pig tomorrow night.
The Nashville, Tenn., singer-songwriter will make his live debut at the legendary Ann Arbor rock club and open for Ian Noe, a Beattyville, Ky., singer-songwriter.
“It will be me and a harmonica and a guitar, and I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been on enough hectic production tours that I’m ready to be by myself for a little bit,” said Ivey, who kicked off his tour Sept. 12 at Nashville’s AMERICANAFEST. “I’ll definitely play some songs from the record, but I’ve already recorded a second record and have the third one already written.”
Interpreting ‘The Dream and the Dreamer’
For his intimate Saturday night set, the prolific Ivey will feature homespun, deeply introspective tracks from his brilliant nine-track debut, “The Dream and the Dreamer,” which dropped earlier this month on Anti-Records.
Recorded in a small Nashville home studio with producer and wife Margo Price, Ivey’s album beautifully weaves elements of classic folk and gently-frayed psychedelia with Southern rock and Americana pop-tinged sensibilities. Price encouraged Ivey to write and record a batch of his own songs during a brief tour break.
“I co-write a lot with her, but I had been writing stuff that I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to sing. It only took me a couple of weeks, maybe a month tops, to write the whole thing,” said Ivey, who initially played with Price in the country-soul group Buffalo Cover as well as Secret Handshake.
“Everyone always says you take your whole life to write your first album, and I’ve been writing since I was 15, so that’s not necessarily true for me. I went in to record, it was supposed be demos, and it turned out pretty good. Anti had heard them, and then it all started to happen. I never really planned for it to be a record.”
Editor’s Note: This is repost of an earlier interview with Danika Holmes and Jeb Hart of Danika & The Jeb. Tonight, they’ll be performing at Ann Arbor’s Black Crystal Cafe.
A Nashville acoustic pop and Americana duo, Danika Holmes and Jeb Hart, aka Danika & The Jeb, bring a dynamic, uplifting and fun sound that includes a combination of artfully written songs and powerful musical phrasing.
Together, Danika & The Jeb have performed more than 1,200 shows in the U.S., U.K. and Europe since forming in 2010. They’ve also opened for Lyle Lovett, Dierks Bentley, Phil Vassar and Tracy Lawrence.
Holmes believes that a well-written song can embody all emotions of the human existence, and she articulates that beautifully with her slightly raspy, yet warm voice and truthful lyrics.
“I learned how to play the guitar from Jeb. It’s been so fun playing together all these years now because our musical style has grown together,” said Holmes, who grew up listening to church music. “As a vocalist, every artist wishes they had a guitar player like Jeb, someone who knows when to hang back and knows when to step up to the front of the stage and give a killer solo as well.”
Grand-nephew to country artist Clyde Moody, Hart can craft a story with six strings. Despite a car accident that left him unable to play for several years, Hart’s determination to overcome prevailed.
“I started on sax when I was nine and then on guitar at 14. When I was young, I’d go to work with my mom and was told to be quiet,” Hart said. “I’d hang out next to her desk with a pair of headphones on and record mixed tapes from the radio onto this little boombox she bought me.”
The duo’s latest project, “Day #2349, Danika & The Jeb – Live at Campbell Steele Gallery,” is a live double album that was recorded in Marion, Iowa last year. They recorded it 2,349 days after the release of their first album, “Second Chances,” in 2010. Their latest studio album, “Balance, Vol. 1” was released in 2014.
“Our goal was to capture one of our 1,200 live performances in a way that made people feel like they were right there listening to it,” Holmes said. “We didn’t want it to be a ‘best of’ album where you get the best version of 20 live shows. Our double-disc album is a complete show, beginning to end.”
Danika & The Jeb will capture that same live spirit during their performance tonight at Ann Arbor’s Black Crystal Cafe.
“We never tell exactly what we are preparing, but we choose our set from about six hours of rehearsed material,” Holmes said. “We like to read our audience and the other writers we’ll be playing for and with.”
Later this year, Danika & The Jeb will launch a Patreon page to share more live adventures with their fans. Each month, they will release two pieces of content that will include audio or live video projects. Danika & The Jeb also will be playing 80 more shows throughout the U.S. and Europe this year.
The Motor City indie pop-rock singer-songwriter, aka Maggie Cocco, digs deep and gets personal on her new nine-song double EP, “Love & Life,” which drops June 1.
On “Love & Life,” Cocco’s inspirational lyrics and soulful, powerhouse voice are reminiscent of Carole King, Patti Smith, Kelly Clarkson and Emmylou Harris rolled into one. Her richly-layered songs unravel relatable situations for fans who have experienced the trials and tribulations of life and love.
Cocco is releasing her first single, “I See You,” today from her upcoming double EP. “I See You” brings an acoustic foot-stompin’, finger-snappin’ tale of an unexpected love facing personal triumph despite life’s ongoing challenges.
“‘Love’s four heartfelt songs explore infatuation, confidence, insecurity, frustration, anger and loss as it pertains to romantic love. I was inspired to draw personally from my own love life and pulled a ‘Taylor Swift’ of sorts,” said Maggie Cocco, who formed Science for Sociopaths in 2016. With ‘Life,’ I dealt with the deep stuff bordering on existential. Everything from self-love and being our best selves to life’s toughest questions and big decisions. It’s real, and so sometimes it’s dark, but it’s always hopeful.”