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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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‘Traveling Lady’ – Ann Arbor’s Judy Banker Honors Folk Music Hero Rosalie Sorrels in Idaho This Weekend

Ann Arbor’s Judy Banker will celebrate the musical legacy of folk icon Rosalie Sorrels in Idaho this weekend.

Judy Banker is ready to embark on a folk music pilgrimage of sorts.

The Ann Arbor Americana singer-songwriter will travel nearly 2,000 miles to perform at the Rosalie Sorrels First Annual Music Festival near Boise, Idaho this weekend.

As part of the inaugural festival’s lineup featuring Sista Sarah & Pocket of Bones and nearly a dozen other artists, Banker will celebrate the musical legacy of Sorrels at Julius M. Kleiner Memorial Park in Meridian, Idaho.

A beloved folk singer-songwriter who passed away in 2017, Sorrels has inspired Banker and a growing generation of folk, country and roots artists with her iconic music, storytelling and social activism. During her nearly half-century career, Sorrels recorded more than 20 albums, including the 2005 Grammy-nominated “My Last Go ‘Round.”

“I saw a post that her son Kevin had put on Facebook about how they were going to have a festival, and he was thinking of having it around his mother’s birthday, which was June 24,” Banker said. “She’s one of my heroes, so I thought, ‘How could it hurt? I’ll message him the link to my music, and I said if you’re opening it up for people to play, I’d love to play.’ At midnight or one in the morning that night, I got a ding on my phone, and he said, ‘Yes.’”

Flabbergasted, Banker immediately joined the lineup to support Kevin Sorrels and his family in honoring his mother’s memory and music. During the festival, Banker will perform a Saturday night closing set and cover several Rosalie Sorrels favorites, including “Baby Rocking Medley,” “If I Could Be the Rain” and “Traveling Lady.”

“I feel just this debt of gratitude and closing the show that night will be a real tribute to her. It just feels like I’m going to Mecca,” said Banker, who originally met Sorrels after one of her performances at The Ark more than 30 years ago. “I also would really love for Kevin to play guitar on one of her songs during my set.”

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Three Times A Lady – Angela Predhomme, Kathy Wieland and Judy Banker Host Songwriters in the Round Show Saturday Night at Crazy Wisdom

Angela Predhomme, Kathy Wieland and Judy Banker will perform a “Songwriters in the Round” show Saturday night at Crazy Wisdom in Ann Arbor.

Three singer-songwriters will share two hours of acoustic tunes, tales and triumphs Saturday night at Ann Arbor’s Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tearoom.

Angela Predhomme, Kathy Wieland and Judy Banker will perform as part of the “Songwriters in the Round” series and take listeners on an intimate musical journey filled with creative lyrics, catchy melodies and compelling stories.

“It’s a really cool venue because it’s a listening room, almost like a mini Ark, where people come and pay attention,” Predhomme said. “It’s very appropriate for us to tell stories about the songs, talk between the songs and really interact with the people.”

As part of the show, each singer-songwriter will perform her own material, provide insights into her music and collaborate with one another. Together, they’ll offer an invigorating blend of Americana, country, folk, soft rock and pop to uplift the musical spirit on a warm winter’s night.

“It’s fun to be able to share the stories behind our songs with people who care about them,” said Predhomme, who performs regularly at Crazy Wisdom. “I’ll be doing a lot of newer songs, and we may do a song together at the end.”

Continue reading “Three Times A Lady – Angela Predhomme, Kathy Wieland and Judy Banker Host Songwriters in the Round Show Saturday Night at Crazy Wisdom”