Evolutionary Perspective – Mike Ward Examines Passage of Time on ‘Particles to Pearls’ Album

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Mike Ward highlights the fleeting passage of time on “Particles to Pearls.” Photo – Danny Ward

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.”

Continue reading “Evolutionary Perspective – Mike Ward Examines Passage of Time on ‘Particles to Pearls’ Album”

Screen Time – Cashmere Washington Channels Rom-Coms, Coen Brothers on ‘Almost Country for Old Men, Electro Country for They/Them’ EP

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Cashmere Washington seeks inspiration from film on his new EP, “Almost Country for Old Men, Electro Country for They/Them.” Photo – Mikael Dunn

Cashmere Washington didn’t expect a car accident, a degree completion and several rom-com binges to spark a new EP.

Ironically, that chaotic period provided the Ypsilanti indie rocker with an unexpected setting for writing their new “love letter-style” EP, Almost Country for Old Men, Electro Country for They/Them, out today.

“I got rear-ended by a tow truck right after The Shape of Things to Come came out, and it really destroyed my confidence for a bit … like I didn’t want to be online or even want to leave my house,” said Washington, aka Thomas Dunn, who’s now an Eastern Michigan University (EMU) alum.

“But I had this screenwriting course at EMU in which we analyzed movies from a screenwriting perspective, and I watched so many more of them because of last semester. I blazed through so many Rachel McAdams or Meg Ryan movies and also got really interested in a few K-dramas. I watched a lot of them while I played guitar at night and most of the new EP was written this way.”

While watching rom-coms and K-dramas, Washington also sought inspiration from another unlikely source, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen’s 2007 Academy Award-winning film, No Country for Old Men.

“I pictured the whole EP as an indie romantic-comedy soundtrack. Because the songs on the EP lean into a variety of emotions, I see ‘Life Is’ as a good example of both. It straddles the line between a cataclysmic sadness and an unwavering optimism to me,” they said.

“It’s funny because No Country for Old Men is such a dark film. I love how it sits within many genres and influences, yet is its own thing. The EP … pushed me to write songs that have multiple sides and angles. The songs have these dark and cinematic edges to them, but I hope they also feel kind of cheeky and cute.”

Continue reading “Screen Time – Cashmere Washington Channels Rom-Coms, Coen Brothers on ‘Almost Country for Old Men, Electro Country for They/Them’ EP”

City Love Letter – Cashmere Washington Reveres Ypsilanti and Local Connections on ‘Life Is’

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Cashmere Washington pays homage to Ypsilanti and its people and places on “Life Is.” Photo – Mikael Dunn

Cashmere Washington openly shares a love letter to their current city.

The indie rocker expresses deep appreciation for Ypsilanti and the memorable friendships and experiences that accompany it on their introspective new single, “Life Is.”

“Ypsilanti is the first place I ever said, ‘I want to live here,’” said Washington, aka Thomas Dunn, who hails from Midland and recently graduated from Eastern Michigan University. “It’s the hometown I got to pick.”

Throughout “Life Is,” tender piano, fuzzy electric guitar, strolling bass, steady drums and glistening cymbals instantly evoke sentimental images of people and places along Michigan Avenue and nearby neighborhoods.

Washington sings, “Watched the best minds of my generation/Stumbling back home, coming down the avenue/Yeah, they don’t even stop at the venue.”

“It’s based on this memory that I have of my friend walking home in front of a venue on Michigan Avenue on their way from work, and this really wonderful conversation I had with another friend about how our favorite songs have the ability to let us focus on a beautiful sunrise when we know something awful is looming just beyond the frame,” they said. “The original goal was to mash those two scenes into a song (with a few artistic liberties taken).”

With that vivid imagery in mind, Washington closes “Life Is” with a thought-provoking verse that prompts listeners to take chances and pursue their goals. In a sense, the city of Ypsilanti provides the ideal backdrop for Washington to fully realize their true sense of self.

Washington reflects, “Cuz I know I’m not scared to die/I know that I’m petrified/To try and fail.”

“The line alludes to my own history with depression. Personally, the worst days have never been the tough day; it’s usually the day after,” they said.

“Maybe I’m too optimistic, but who knows, maybe tomorrow I’ll get a raise; or a week from now I’ll bump into someone funny in line for coffee; or someone will send a really nice, thoughtful email about a beat-tape I put online five years ago. You just never know what can happen.”

Continue reading “City Love Letter – Cashmere Washington Reveres Ypsilanti and Local Connections on ‘Life Is’”

Beyond the Studio – South Main Street Marketing Promotes Artists, Albums

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A new music marketing firm is amplifying artist voices beyond the recording studio.

Known as South Main Street Marketing, the firm advises, supports and promotes musicians in their marketing efforts. Launched earlier this year by David Roof and Stephanie Reed, it’s already achieved a growing roster of multi-genre artists, including Linden Thoburn, Jeff Adams, Mary Beth Howell and Dirk Kroll among others.

“Every record that I’ve made has ended with the same conversation – ‘Hey, I’ve got a record, but what do I do now?’ I’ve been producing about 12 to 15 albums a year for more than a decade, and in total, I’ve probably been part of over 200,” said Roof, who also owns and operates Rooftop Recording.

“I know the time-intensive efforts that go into what musicians have to do to promote a record. There aren’t many formal resources for musicians to consult to answer that question. I sensed there was a void in filling that need for musicians.”

Roof shared that thought with his business and creative network and quickly connected with Reed through Chris McCall, an Ann Arbor singer-songwriter, voice coach and meditation counselor.

“I had been working with Chris on her marketing, website and social media and learned through her that Dave was looking for someone who did this kind of marketing,” said Reed, an experienced marketing, creative and business development executive/consultant.

Within a few weeks, Reed and Roof assembled a business plan and company framework to launch South Main Street Marketing, which is named after Ann Arbor’s famed downtown thoroughfare and honors both Reed and Roof growing up in Michigan.

For their new venture, the duo developed a suite of marketing and creative services which range from digital experience design and digital media to social media management and marketing consulting.

Each new artist relationship begins with a discovery session to identify goals, expectations and next steps. An artist can choose from à la carte or bundled services depending on their needs and budget.

“I use the same philosophy I’ve used with all my clients through the decades. Our goal is to discover who a client is and where they’re coming from as well as their goals and voice. We give them the plan, tools and encouragement needed to have their voices heard,” Reed said.

“South Main Street Marketing’s operating premise is to listen to people, provide the resources they need, and educate and set them free. We want artists to not feel tethered. We’re all about supporting an artist’s individual needs and goals.”

Additionally, the firm’s focus allows artists to spend valuable time honing their musical craft instead of getting absorbed in ancillary activities. At South Main Street Marketing, Reed and Roof want musicians to take back their opportunity costs.

“All the time that musicians spend marketing themselves is not time they’re practicing their instrument, writing a new song or experiencing the world. If we can help take that burden off of people, then we’re helping create more art by freeing up artists’ time,” Roof said.

Looking ahead, South Main Street Marketing will continue meeting their goal of quietly remaining behind the scenes to ensure artists stay front and center. As part of a collaborative approach, they’re creating clear plans to elevate artists and support their uniqueness while helping grow the music community.

Leader of the Pack – Michael Snyder-Barker Celebrates Local Lineup on ‘Bark & the Pack’ Live Album

Michael Snyder-Barker, center, poses with his bandmates at Adrian’s Cotton Brewing Company.

Michael Snyder-Barker leads the ultimate live music pack.

The Tecumseh singer-songwriter and drummer joins forces with an all-star local lineup – John Lowe (guitar, vocals), Mike Hintz (bass, vocals), Chris Broski (guitar, vocals), Michael Rozich (guitar, bass, vocals) and David Roof (guitar, keys, vocals) – for a bluesy, rock-infused live album, Bark & the Pack, now available on all streaming platforms.

Recorded live at Adrian’s Cotton Brewing Company in January, Bark & the Pack features 12 timeless classic rock, jam-fueled tracks spanning nearly three decades of Snyder-Barker’s prolific, multi-genre career. He’s assembled a fiery sextet of collaborators from The Mighty Rhythm Bandits, Barker & Broski and other solo projects.

“The lineup was based on my current band, The Mighty Rhythm Bandits, as the core, and David Roof, who played all of the instruments on the studio recordings. Chris Broski and I did a set as the opener in which we performed Barker & Broski’s The Ballad of Billy Bob and Other Generic American Folklore in its entirety. I thought it would be fun to have him play on a majority of the other tracks as well,” Snyder-Barker said.

“‘Godsparrow’ was a song we had written and recorded with the group Soylent Green/Edgar Allen’s Toe in the ‘90s, and I wanted this to be somewhat of a retrospective. I had written and recorded some music with Michael Rozich and wanted to highlight those originals as well.”

Throughout Bark & the Pack, Snyder-Barker spotlights life-changing musical stories about internal growth, personal loss, rowdy adventures, stolen moments, long-lasting friendships, renewal and the fleeting passage of time. For his second live album, Snyder-Barker decided to drop Bark & the Pack after recording a prior CD release party for Bark’s Wagon Tales at Cotton in 2017.

As the live album’s ‘70s hard rock-inspired opening track, “Sea of Sand (He’s a Lost Boy)” features crunchy metal guitars, pounding drums, crashing cymbals and calm bass as Snyder-Barker chronicles a man’s eternal soul-searching journey for self-acceptance.

He reflects, “You see a young boy screamin’/Across the desert plains/Runnin’ for his life/He never found his peace/Jealous men never revealin’/What they hide away/For diamonds and silver.”

“The album has four new tracks with The Mighty Rhythm Bandits – ‘Sea of Sand (He’s a Lost Boy),’ ‘I Lost My Money,’ ‘Bats Riot in the Hen House’ and ‘The Mighty Rhythm Bandit’ – and two other songs written with Michael Rozich, ‘Weak Eyed Willie’ and ‘Soul Sacrifice,” he said.

Continue reading “Leader of the Pack – Michael Snyder-Barker Celebrates Local Lineup on ‘Bark & the Pack’ Live 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”

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”

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”

Solo Ride – Bobby Pennock to Open for Jeff Scott Jan. 17 at Farmington Civic Theater

Bobby Pennock will open the first show of the LIVE! 2020 winter concert series at the Farmington Civic Theater.

For Bobby Pennock, a new decade will bring more chances to perform live as a solo artist.

The Detroit folk rock singer-songwriter typically performs with the quartet Taller Than They Appear or as a duo with singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Luti Erbeznik.

This month, Pennock will make a rare live solo appearance opening for Jeff Scott as part of the Farmington Civic Theater’s “LIVE!” 2020 winter concert series. His Jan. 17 opening set will include acoustic-filled gems from his collaborative and solo projects, including The Pennock/Stephens Project and Taller Than They Appear.

“I know there’s already going to be songs from each of those in the set,” Pennock said. “I’m also doing a new song that’s one of the latest ones Mike Stephens and I wrote called ‘Circling Back to You.’”

Formerly known as “Friday Night Live” at the Farmington Civic Theater, the newly renamed “LIVE!” 2020 concert series also will feature Bones Maki and the Blue Water Boys with Rochelle Clark (Feb. 21), Olivia Millerschin with Adam Liebman (March 20) and the Nashtown Songwriters Round (April 23).

The Pennock/Stephens Project

The Pennock/Stephens Project album artwork

In 2018, Pennock released a striking folk rock album called “The Pennock/Stephens Project” with the late singer-songwriter Mike Stephens, who passed away from cancer in October. The duo met years earlier through Myspace when Stephens hosted a podcast called the Open Mike Café and eventually developed a strong friendship.

Throughout the years, Pennock and Stephens wrote an extensive catalog of folk rock songs and decided to release their self-titled debut album as a duo. At the time, Stephens had relocated to Colorado to live near his daughter as he battled long-term health issues, but later returned to Michigan.

“He was diagnosed with cancer, and our good friend who lives in Nashville, M.J. Bishop, set up a GoFundMe, and then I wanted to do something else,” said Pennock, who also performed with guitarist Terry Birkett as part of the project.

“Mike and I had continued to write songs together, and I got the idea of recording an album and the proceeds of which would go to him for his medical costs. That’s how that album came together, and my friend John Finan said he’d record it for free.”

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Warm Welcome – Judy Banker Band, Mike Gentry Bring Refreshing Folk Rock to Farmington Friday

The Judy Banker Band and Mike Gentry will close out the fall series of Friday Night Live Nov. 8 in Farmington.

Farmington Civic Theater’s musical guests will receive an early check-in at the “Buffalo Motel” Friday.

Upon arrival, they’ll hear the refreshing and comforting indie country rock sounds of the Judy Banker Band with special guest Mike Gentry.

The Ann Arbor quintet of Judy Banker (vocals, guitar), David Roof (drums), Tony Pace (guitar), John Sperendi (bass) and Alan Pagliere (pedal steel guitar) will headline “Friday Night Live” at the historic theater and preview new material from Banker’s forthcoming “Buffalo Motel” album.

“It’s our last band show before the end of the year, so we want to introduce people to the new album,” said Banker, who will release “Buffalo Motel” in January. “We’ll also be playing some cuts from other albums, and Tony and John are going to take the lead on a song. Playing in a band with five of us can be really intimate, and we just have this creative energy all around us.”

Banker will share that creative energy with the Farmington Civic Theater audience and include flavors of Americana, roots, country and rock music throughout the band’s eclectic set. For “Buffalo Motel,” Banker has evolved into a country rock sound with heavier electric guitars and driving drum beats compared to her acoustic-oriented predecessors, “Devils Never Cry” (2016) and “Without You” (2014).

“The sound we’ve created for ‘Buffalo Motel’ is more layered and complex, and it’s a bigger sound with a higher volume that has more percussion and is bass-driven,” said Banker, who teamed up with son Ben Sayler to produce the album. “It’s nice to play the new album in segments, and a theater feels perfect for that.”

Banker is putting the finishing touches on “Buffalo Motel” with Roof, who will master the album at his Rooftop Recording studio in Grand Blanc. Along with Roof Sayler and her band, Banker has created a strong sonic signature for each track on “Buffalo Motel” and taken creative inspiration from established indie rock acts like Beck and The National.

“You have the same instruments and the same band playing on the songs, but each song has such a clear identity – more confidence, more integration,” she said. “I like my old songs and albums, but there’s a more confident and sophisticated approach with this one.”

Continue reading “Warm Welcome – Judy Banker Band, Mike Gentry Bring Refreshing Folk Rock to Farmington Friday”