Youssef Salloum believes the best things in life aren’t planned.
The Random Ties vocalist-guitarist elegantly weaves a lifetime of chance encounters and unexpected lessons into a new introspective, grungy debut EP, Believe, with bandmate KD Murray (drums).
“Believe is inspired by the roller coaster ride we go through touching on subjects, such a losing a loved one, difficulties in starting a family, struggling with faith and moving on. All the songs were written with a high-energy, feel-good vibe and a dynamic sound topped with an honest message,” Salloum said.
Originally from Beirut, Salloum spent more than two decades making Believe an alt rock-fueled reality after putting music aside for different careers, personal relationships and international moves. The EP thoughtfully represents a renewed self-commitment to creativity, motivation and persistence in a disconnected world of musical uncertainty.
“The song ‘Believe’ says ‘There was a time I lost a dream.’ It’s never too late, and no matter how hard it feels, things get better if you hang in there long enough. At the time, I had made the decision to see how I was going to make a living while having music as a hobby instead of a career. My intention was to be a musician, but at the end of the day, when you look at what’s going on around you, there was no internet, and there was no social media,” said Salloum, who returned to Ann Arbor in November 2018.
Through Random Ties, Salloum poetically chronicles his international musical journey through six heartfelt alt rock anthems. Together, those profound Believe tracks represent a highly relatable narrative about overcoming personal struggles regardless of age, geography or culture.
Week 39 to Why
One of those struggles includes eagerly awaiting the birth of a child after overcoming years of infertility on the Pearl Jam-tinged “Week 39.” Now a father, Salloum poignantly addresses the anxiety-induced anticipation of son Liam’s arrival during his wife’s 39th week of pregnancy.
Piercing, distorted electric guitars, pulsating drums, rhythmic cymbal taps and humming bass entice Liam leave the womb as Salloum throatily beckons, “Son, this song is all for you/All I have is all for you/Son, this song is about you/All I am is all I am for you.”
“Those last few weeks of anxiety were more than all the previous nine months put together. You want him to be safe more than anything else in life and then suddenly Liam was born and in our arms. It was a special time because it wasn’t easy for us to get pregnant, and it was the most powerful moment in our lives,” Salloum said.
These days, Joanna Ransdell hears the call of the wild.
The Ann Arbor folk pop singer-songwriter and frontwoman for The Jaywalkers is weaving a wilderness theme throughout her upcoming second album, a follow-up to 2018’s oceanic predecessor, “The Open Sea Before Me.”
“The story starts with a song about being in Alaska in the middle of the wilderness because I lived in Alaska for six months in my early 20s. I think the element is earth, and it’s all about navigating the wilderness and going into the deep wells of hurt and heartbreak, investigating it and pulling out what’s causing you hurt and heartache,” said Ransdell, who also plays keys and guitar with The Jaywalkers.
“It ends with somebody embracing their healing. I’m a therapist, so it’s all about emotional healing and vulnerability. I think this one is more about facing your demons head-on, the acknowledgement of it and the healing that comes from that acknowledgement.”
Joanna & The Jaywalkers’ new tracks will form the setlist for Thursday’s show at The Ark in Ann Arbor. Along with Anthony Marchese (cello), Phil Rinke (double bass), Shane Harrell (drums), Mel Clark (vocals) and Lauren Pulcipher (vocals, violin), Ransdell will open for Judy Banker and help celebrate the release of Banker’s new “Buffalo Motel” album.
“Judy’s been very supportive of us, and I really enjoy her music as well,” Ransdell said. “I got the chance to see her play a lot of these new songs on her album, and they’re fantastic. We’re very honored to be playing with her.”
After Thursday’s show, Ransdell and her Jaywalkers bandmates will rehearse before entering the studio in February to record their next album, which will drop later this year. They will take time to craft beautiful new tracks focused on life, love and growth at Solid Sound Recording Co.
With “Buffalo Motel,” Judy Banker creates a welcoming extended stay throughout album’s dozen heartfelt, transformative tracks.
The Americana singer-songwriter shares an expansive, layered and atmospheric sound that transcends her traditional acoustic country and folk roots. Driving drum and bass tracks, hook-driven instrumental intros and breaks, and innovative arrangements push Banker toward a countrified indie rock territory that lies somewhere between Ann Arbor, Mich., and Kalispell, Mont.
Out Thursday, “Buffalo Motel” allows Banker to flex her raw, gritty songwriting muscle and weather a series of intense emotions through different relationships and life events. She poetically chronicles love’s rise and decline at several points in time throughout her third album’s intimate tales.
“There’s something about this being the beginning of a new year and new decade that adds a sense of importance to it all. This album turned out bigger and better than I could have imagined. I think it feels that way for the members of the project – the band and David Roof and Ben Sayler as producers and creative directors,” said Banker, who took creative inspiration from Beck, The National and Sharon Van Etten while recording her latest album.
“We didn’t know where all of our experimentation in the pre-production sessions was going to take the music. There were so many moving parts and different ways we approached recording each of the songs. ”
Banker collaborated with a roster of talented Michigan musicians on “Buffalo Motel” to make it bigger than the sum of its parts. Tony Pace (electric guitar, dobro), John Sperendi (electric and upright bass), Brian Williams (drums), Alan Pagliere (pedal steel) and Roof (multi-instrumentalist, Rooftop Recording engineer) added new elements to realize the potential of each song. They spent most of last year steeped in fireplace bourbon sessions while creating “Buffalo Motel’s” exquisite, multi-genre tracks.
“I hope that the sound of the album, this collection of songs and how they are presented, excites people and engages them. The playing on it blows me away – this band is over-the-top talented,” Banker said. “They pushed themselves and tried new approaches on this album to bring out the heart of each song. I hope people can feel that, and it moves them.”
Mark Lavengood will bring warm down-home holiday sounds to Ann Arbor this weekend.
The Grand Rapids bluegrass roots vocalist and multi-instrumentalist will join a star-studded lineup of Michigan artists and musicians for the 12th annual “The Ebird & Friends Holiday Show” tonight, Friday and Saturday at The Ark.
“I’ve done it two other years. I love Erin so much, that production is one of the most pro things I think I’ve been a part of, and it’s just always a good time, and I’m always honored to be invited back,” Lavengood said. “I get to lead some, and I get to back other people who play the instruments. It’s just a great hang, the community comes out in droves, and there really isn’t a show like it anywhere.”
As an established touring artist and musician, Lavengood regularly shares his resonant energy with spirited crowds from Michigan to Colorado. He eloquently combines folk, bluegrass and Americana with bandmates Justin Avdek (bass), Dutcher Snedeker (keys), Justin Wierenga (guitar) and Loren Kranz (drums) on stage and in the studio for a growing catalog of bluegrass roots singles and albums.
With an expansive musical palate, Lavengood adds delectable instrumental flavors of dobro, steel guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, drums and percussion to assemble an appetizing eclectic sound for fans nationwide.
“I’m fleshing out a lot of songs that I been sitting on over the years, and I love playing the music, but at the same time, I like getting the ideas out and then bringing a band into the studio and tracking it that way,” Lavengood said. “There’s a lot of magic you get when you have a bunch of different minds in one space serving a song together.”
The Ann Arbor infectious global groove group has taken flight with a new band moniker and migrated toward new music wrapped in breathtaking melodies, vocal harmonies and improvisational elements.
Previously known as The Ragbirds, the quartet of Erin Zindle (vocals, violin, mandolin, accordion, banjo), TJ Zindle (electric/acoustic guitar, vocals), Shannon Wade (bass, vocals) and Loren Kranz (drums, vocals) is now Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds.
“The name change sends a very clear message that this is different from what we’ve done before. This is different enough that we feel like it needs a new name,” said Zindle, who formed the band in 2005. “Also, there’s the sense of me stepping up and really taking ownership of the role that I have played in the band this whole time. My bandmates are just so amazing. I’m so proud of my band right now, and they’re the best guys I could possibly ask to work with.”
Throughout the band’s 14-year history, Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds have maintained a passionate grassroots fan base by continually reinventing themselves with an evolving sound while remaining rooted in the high-energy sphere of world-based folk rock. Today, they’ve shifted their sound to include more melodic components along with uplifting vocals, edgy guitars and groovy rhythms.
“We have less going on in the percussive world, and in the rhythm section, it’s a little less busy. And it’s interesting how that happened at the same time as I was having this natural shift toward developing my voice and stepping forward as a singer and writing songs with stronger melodies as I improve as a songwriter,” Zindle said. “I’m just getting much more honed in my craft so that I can write songs that are more vocal forward and focus on the melodic elements.”
John Lennon is often remembered for his time as an enigmatic member of The Beatles, the smart and witty frontman who could charm crowds and gain their animosity alike. He is also remembered for his strong political stances, namely for causes of justice and the promotion of peace.
Ann Arbor recently saw one of these promotions for peace in memory of John Lennon. On Oct. 10, the Veterans for Peace John Lennon Birthday Concert at The Ark saw local musicians come together, performing both Lennon’s own songs and other peace and protest songs. Proceeds went to the local chapter of Veterans for Peace to fund their Peace Scholarship Program.
Lennon was always leery about the politicians whose influences steeped into the lives of everyday citizens. In 1968 at The National Theatre, believing that “…our society is run by insane people for insane objectives, and I think that’s what I sussed when I was 16 and 12, way down the line.”
He also stated that “If anybody can put on paper what our government, and the American government and the Russian, Chinese, what they are actually trying to do and what they think they’re doing… I’d be very pleased to know what they think they’re doing, I think they’re all insane!”
These sentiments can be heard through his song, “Gimme Some Truth,” a song where Lennon sings that he is tired of hearing the things spread by “neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians.” As Lennon’s political voice demanded to be heard, so did his music grow to become the tool to spread it to the world.
His voice was also spread by the support and influence of Yoko Ono. As a contemporary multimedia artist and peace activist herself, Ono helped Lennon find ways to voice his own thoughts about the world around them, from government corruption to the Vietnam War and everything in-between.
The National will be easy to find Tuesday night at Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium.
The indie rock quintet will perform their first headlining show at the University of Michigan’s 106-year-old, 3,500-seat auditorium in support of their latest and eighth studio release, “I Am Easy to Find.”
Presented by AEG and The Ark, it’s the latest stop on The National’s current 20-date North American tour with special guest Australian indie rock singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Courtney Barnett. The band last performed in Michigan at Detroit’s Mo Pop Festival in July 2018.
The National’s Matt Berninger (vocals) along with twin brothers Aaron Dessner (guitar, bass, piano) and Bryce Dessner (guitar, piano) and brothers Scott Devendorf (bass) and Bryan Devendorf (drums) will showcase new introspective songs tinged with dark, melancholy lyrics from their critically-acclaimed 16-track album, which dropped May 17 on 4AD.
The follow-up to 2017’s GRAMMY-award winning release, “Sleep Well Beast,” “I Am Easy to Find” features The National’s latest singles, “You Had Your Soul with You,” “Light Years” and “Hairpin Turns,” and harnesses their signature indie rock sound filled with driving guitars, eloquent pianos and pulsating bass and drum lines.
Interestingly, the album includes a short companion film with the same name and music by The National. Inspired by “I Am Easy to Find,” the film was directed by Academy Award-nominated director Mike Mills (“20th Century Women,” “Beginners”) and stars Academy Award Winner Alicia Vikander, who’s also featured on the album’s cover.
Along with the band, Mills co-produced “I Am Easy to Find,” which was mostly recorded at Long Pond, Aaron Dessner’s residential studio in upstate New York along with additional sessions in Paris, Berlin, Cincinnati, Austin, Dublin, Brooklyn and other far-flung locations.
The album also features beautiful collaborations with several notable female vocalists, including Sharon Van Etten, Lisa Hannigan, Gail Ann Dorsey, Mina Tindle and Kate Stables.
Both individually and collectively, The National’s members have been involved in countless artistic, charitable and socio-political pursuits. The group released “A Lot of Sorrow” documenting their collaboration with installation artists Ragnar Kjartansson that took place at MOMA’s PS1 and saw the band play their song “Sorrow” for six hours in front of a live audience.
The National are also behind the Red Hot benefit albums, “Dark Was The Night” and “Day Of The Dead,” and the compilation boxed set titled “7-Inches for Planned Parenthood.”
In 2013, the band saw the theatrical release of their documentary, “Mistaken for Strangers,” set to the backdrop of their 2010 release, “High Violet.” During their 16-year career, The National has sold more than 2 million albums in the U.S. alone.
As for The National’s special guest, Barnett will make her first Ann Arbor appearance in support of her second album, 2018’s “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” which “takes your vulnerabilities and everything that scares you and twists them until they fit into someone else’s hands.”
For her latest album and follow-up to 2015’s “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit,” Barnett’s writing is focused on the internal. She’s turned her gaze inward to study how the world and people in it are affecting her.
Listening to “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” it’s easy to imagine Barnett figuring out, song by song, how to orient herself and remain steady in a place that’s rapidly shifting around her.
Last month, Barnett released a new single and video for “Everybody Here Hates You.” Recorded in late 2018 during a break in her “Tell Me How You Really Feel” world tour, “Everybody Here Hates You” is the closest Barnett has ever come to capturing the extraordinary weight and swagger of her live performance on a recording. The track is a blues-tinged behemoth with squalling guitars, organs and tambourines.
Following the release of her latest album, Barnett went on to play sold-out rooms and packed festivals worldwide. Over the course of just a few years, Barnett has become internationally renowned for her witty, ironic and distinctive song lyrics.
She’s won the Australian Music Prize, J Award for Album of the Year, APRA’s Songwriter of the Year and four ARIA Awards. Barnett has worked on music with Jack White, The Breeders and Jen Cloher as well as releasing the 2017 masterful collaboration, “Lotta Sea Lice,” with indie rock singer-songwriter Kurt Vile.
“We will do some of our own songs and play as a fourpiece with them,” Steele said. “They put a whole new dimension on what we play.”
For Sunday’s show, Kane & Steele will throw a four-handed acoustic party filled with street swing, stomp blues and mountain twang, including tracks from their 2015 album, “Feels Like Home.”
Together, the husband-and-wife acoustic blues duo recorded 12 covers from blues guitar legends Robert Johnson, Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Blake, Robert Lockwood Jr., and Mississippi John Hurt and two original songs, “If I Don’t Jump” and “The Last Day of Summer,” in their Ann Arbor area home studio.
“I didn’t know initially that Dave loved Blind Blake or Blind Willie McTell or all of these people who were like home to me,” said Kane, who originally met Steele in summer 1991. “When I saw him on the street busking at the art fair, really what I was saying was I didn’t know you loved the same music that I love. That’s become home for us, and that’s really where we come from.”
Their love of acoustic blues led Kane & Steele to a fruitful 30-year musical partnership after performing previously with Peter “Madcat” Ruth and Big Dave & the Ultrasonics. Steele’s smoky vocals, percussive rhythm and innovative lead lines blend magically with Kane’s crisp finger-picking style, rootsy leads and stinging slide work.
Local radio station, DJ inspire my decade-long musical journey
Thirteen years ago, I flipped the radio dial to 107.1 (WQKL-FM) in my car and haven’t stopped listening to the Ann Arbor-based station that helped lay the initial foundation for my musical journey.
Listening to the station was a nice distraction while driving to and from my MBA classes at Eastern Michigan University. For a few minutes, I could forget about exams, papers and group projects that temporarily consumed my life and focus on hearing new music instead.
Known as “ann arbor’s 107one,” the station introduced me to Death Cab for Cutie, Snow Patrol, Gomez, Spoon, Ray LaMontagne, Nickel Creek, The Alternate Routes, Colbie Caillat, My Morning Jacket, The Shins, Scars on 45 and others. I slowly built up my CD collection and my musical knowledge because of that station.
By 2008, I had finished grad school and started commuting to Jackson for work five days a week. That allowed me to listen to ann arbor’s 107one about two hours a day. Each day, I looked forward to hearing Martin Bandyke and John Bommarito share their thoughts about different artists between songs.
Chris DuPont believes the right live album includes an eclectic mix of original and cover songs recorded in a venue and a studio.
The Ypsilanti, Mich., folk singer-songwriter melded these two sounds together for his new live album, “Live in A2,” which dropped May 19.
The 12-track live album features six songs recorded during a June 4, 2016 show at The Ark and another six recorded during a studio session at Solid Sound in Ann Arbor, Mich. Each side of the LP represents a different live feel for listeners.
Side A incorporates the intimacy and energy associated with hearing DuPont perform his classic tunes – “Evergreen Waltz,” “Winterfox” and four others – in the 400-seat acoustic and folk music venue known as The Ark.
“I hope it’s a fun listen,” said DuPont while traveling back from a May 12 show in Denver. “I hope that it gives people the type of energy and affirmation that they might get at a live show because for better or worse I really strive for polish.”