In Perspective – Tom Alter Channels Society’s Creative Voices on ‘Poetry and Protest’

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Tom Alter explores the complex nature of the human experience on “Poetry and Protest.” Courtesy photo

Tom Alter deeply examines art and life from different perspectives.

The Fraser indie folk singer-songwriter and guitarist candidly depicts the thoughts, feelings and challenges of society’s creative voices on his latest insightful album, Poetry and Protest.

“I realized that so much of what I was writing about were things based on what I had read or had come from memories that had stayed with me for a long time and made me want to write about them. That’s the poetry side of it,” said Alter, who produced, mixed and mastered his own album.

“And the protest side blends in with that because a lot of the poetry is coming out and speaking to important matters. The last song I wrote for this was (the title track), and that was after thinking about this collection of songs. I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of somebody who has a very different experience from me.”

Alter’s Poetry and Protest provides an enlightening narrative filled with bold tales about humanity, sacrifice, loss and compassion. It seamlessly ventures from the vast emptiness of space to the sparsely populated shores of Hudson Bay to the tightly packed streets of Hamtramck.

“The Poetry and Protest idea came from me being out on a walk and thinking about this collection of songs that I was putting together and realizing where the influences for them came from,” said Alter about his sixth album.

“There’s a song, ‘Four Blue Horses,’ that is directly from a Mary Oliver poem, and it comes from Franz Marc’s Blue Horses. She wrote a poem about that series of paintings, and she got so personally involved in the paintings. I just thought, ‘I want to write about this; it was as simple as that.’”

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Sky High – After Blue Embraces New Possibilities on ‘Far Above and Far Away’

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Tom Alter and Katie Williamson discard painful feelings of the past and surge toward the radiant promise of the future on “Far Above and Far Away.”

Brimming with atmospheric soundscapes and curative tales, After Blue provides a calming, aerial pathway to new possibilities.

The metro Detroit indie folk duo of Katie Williamson (vocals, piano) and Tom Alter (vocals, guitar) instantly soothes and invigorates weary, lost souls on their enchanting new album, Far Above and Far Away.

“I think the first song, ‘Armada,’ was written prior to the pandemic, and I read an article in the paper about the town and what they did to build the garden. And Katie and I finished that one off together in her old house. I think that song kinda set the stage for the rest,” said Alter, who formed After Blue with Williamson in 2016.

Throughout their latest release, After Blue gracefully discards the painful feelings of the past and surges toward the radiant promise of the future. Each mesmerizing track allows listeners to rediscover their sense of spirituality and inner peace within an azure-filled dreamscape.

“I think ‘Charlotte’ was the next one that was written … but it is about persistence. There’s a line in there where it says, ‘I promise that bruises heal,’ and that’s the core of that song,” Alter said.

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Summer Stage – Ann Arbor’s Broken Branch Outdoor Concert Series Starts June 5

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Broken Branch will feature eight free biweekly Saturday shows from June to September.

Sara Gibson and Adam Labeaux promise a summer filled with fiery jams, folky tales and friendly stage banter.

The Ann Arbor musicians will revive their long-running live music backyard showcase, Broken Branch Summer Series, after last year’s pandemic-induced hiatus.

“Many people have been locked in their houses, and they haven’t had an opportunity to do anything. Musicheads are shriveling up inside and really need to get out,” said Labeaux, whose Broken Branch ranch is located near Dixboro.

“But then there are the performers and gig workers who have had no place to play, and we have a place where people can gather safely. We can support the musicians who have been hit, provide a place for people to see shows and marry that together here.”

Together, Labeaux and Gibson will reunite those eager musical forces through eight free biweekly Saturday shows from June to September. The eclectic lineup will include a rich blend of country, folk, jazz, alt rock, soul pop, world rock and bluesy funk sounds to appease live music diehards:

June 5 – Linden Thoburn Scarecrow CD release party

June 19 – Djangophonique

July 3 – Labeaux & Co. with special guest The Welcome Homes

July 17 – Mike Gentry

July 31 – James Henes and the Head Full of Ghosts

August 14 – Judy Banker Band

August 28 – Adam Plomaritas Band

Sept. 11 – The Broken Branch Breakdown – Chirp, Hullabaloo, Mark Jewett, Anna Lee’s Company, Allie Garland with Awesome Sauce and more

This specially curated lineup of emerging and established artists stems from Labeaux and Gibson’s desire to support and join different collaborators on their tree-lined, wraparound deck. Labeaux started the Broken Branch Summer Series in 2014 as a way to his friends perform live at home.

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The Darkness and The Light – Mike Ward Balances Past, Future on Contemplative New Album

Mike Ward uncovers the delicate midpoint between two opposing forces in time and emotion on “The Darkness and The Light.” Photo – Mark Stevens of Blue H2O

Mike Ward eloquently strikes a balance between the past and the future.

The Detroit Americana singer-songwriter thoughtfully uncovers the delicate midpoint between two opposing forces in time and emotion on his reflective third album, The Darkness and The Light.

“I think it has a lot to do with my age; I got started in this late. I think it comes from a lot of experience and examination of that. I come from a really big family; we’ve had some losses and struggles over the last 10 years. These songs were all written well before the pandemic, but they tee up the emotions that people have,” Ward said.

“Since my dad passed and my mom died almost 10 years before that, I’ve been on that path of examining life as it is, life as it was and life after I go. I archived about 10,000 slides and photographs from my dad’s collection because he was an amateur photographer, and you can’t do that without diving into the faces, the eyes, the smiles and the tears. All those stories ruminate around, and I think for me as a writer I’ve realized that’s the way things have to happen for me.”

Ward’s initial ruminations unfold into 10 insightful tales about wisdom, gratitude, reality and altruism throughout The Darkness and The Light. As a majestic successor to 2018’s We Wonder, each Darkness and Light track sashays from shadows of struggle to flashes of hope as listeners travel from one experience to the next.

“I’m not trying to sugarcoat anything, and I’m not trying to be Pollyanna. Even when I sing ‘Our Turn to Shine,’ it’s done in a way that suggests taking it upon yourself. When one of us shines, we can all shine, and bringing a little light to the world is a good thing even as messed up as it is. That’s what I hope people will get from it. I’ve been told by a number of people who’ve listened to it that it’s calming and gives them a sense of relaxation,” Ward said.

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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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