New West Michigan releases by The Hawktones, The Concussions, Bronk Bros., Roosevelt Diggs, Chain of Lakes, Roger MacNaughton, Eric Kehoe and more.
Officially, three weeks of summer remain. Plenty of time to soak up the rays and wiggle your toes in the sand of more local and regional album releases, aka Part III of my Local Spins Summer Roundup. And this batch of CD releases is a hum-dinger. Really. Plus, there’s more to come in September, including the bracing new sophomore effort by The Crane Wives.
Fall in Love with The Concussions
With song titles such as “Dreamsickle,” “Witchiepoo’s Jewelry Box” and “How to Strip for Your Girlfriend’s Girlfriend,” you know you’re in for a sappy, goofy-fun instrumental ride in the backseat of The Concussions’ love-mobile. Dick Chiclet, Matt Mason, Claude Nine and Billy Vits cuddle up in front of their vintage fireplace and get entertainingly moony-eyed on eight, lovey-dovey surf-rock originals on this Double Crown Records release.
Ah, but “Warning, warning, Will Robinson”: This is just Part 1 of a two-part project from this oh-so-clever Grand Rapids bunch. Up next, “Breaking Up with The Concussions.” Get ready to pin the needle on the bitter meter.
This Sand Lake band’s rootsy, throwback milieu also boasts an upbeat folk-rock soul as it tells the tales of six bigger-than-life American folklore heroes: Paul Bunyan, John Henry, Casey Jones, Johnny Appleseed, Pecos Bill and Rip Van Winkle.
Levi Duddles, Logan Duddles and Jon Shears (with Jared Behl on drums and other guest musicians) perform catchy tributes to these legendary figures with robust vocals — and instrumental vim and vigor — on this CD churned out at Grand Rapids’ Stone House Recording.
In the Open: Live at the Howmet Playhouse
Not only does this live recording of Hank Mowery & The Hawktones sizzle with it-feels-like-you’re-there ambience and real blues flair, but the story behind this benefit show is just as compelling: Proceeds from the May concert at Whitehall’s Howmet Playhouse and from sales of this CD will help purchase headstones to rightly mark the graves of deceased, legendary blues artists.
The Killer Blues Headstone Project led by Whitehall blues devotee Steve Salter already has placed headstones for 10 artists whose graves, sadly, were unmarked, including Luther Tucker, J.T. Brown and Johnny Watson. Better yet, Mowery, Troy Amaro, Chris Bracey, Junior Valentine, Chris Corey and sound engineer Fred Drachus have produced one of West Michigan’s best and most eclectic bucket o’ live blues yet. Learn more about the cause at killerblues.net and purchase the CD at cdbaby.com or through the Hawktones Facebook page.
Neon Graffiti has come a long way as a rock band with a pop heart. The Grand Rapids group’s latest, 12-track project builds on its arsenal of hook-heavy material by adroitly balancing rock, blues and a hint of funk as evidenced by muscular tunes such as “Smoke and Whiskey.”
Performed by bassist Tim Foley, drummer John Artz, lead guitarist Dan Agne, guitarist Jeff Oxford, keyboard player Bruce Armstrong and lead singer Adam Wright, most tracks represent a collaboration between Oxford and other songwriters, including Michael “Max” McGee and Andy Furlong.
The Bronk Bros.
There’s no arguing that Kalamazoo’s Bronk Bros. throw a great country party, and songs like “Hickerbilly,” “Messin’ Around,” “Firehouse” and “Swing That Thing” push that attitude to the hilt on their latest studio album, recorded at McDonald Productions in Otsego.
But the truth is, these guys – led by brothers Brian and Heath Bronk – are darned impressive songwriters in their own right, creating classic, mainstream country hooks while displaying the kind of instrumental rapport that’s honed from years of performing together. Shoot, “Summertime” rivals Kid Rock’s seasonal anthem, and “Unmarked Grave” bristles with an infectious, swampy, blues-rock power.
Hamacide and Chain of Lakes
This unusual global collaboration between Grand Rapids’ Chain of Lakes, aka Kyle Rasche, and Shanghai’s Hamacide, aka Yusuke Hama, unfolds like a brilliant slice of folk- and electronic-hued psychedelia, a dreamy-yet-riveting journey to musical places hitherto unknown.
Assembled over the course of a year via Internet file transfers, this masterfully moody six-track assault envelops listeners in surprisingly cohesive but billowy sonic pleasures that demand repeated listening … and maybe a lava lamp. A second release by the duo is in the offing.
Roger MacNaughton and Friends
Elegant. Inventive. New Age with a twist.
With some special guests, ever-prolific Ada pianist Roger MacNaughton has created an instrumental studio album that’s as serene, refreshing and panoramic as the dawn in northern Michigan. Inspired “by Michigan’s natural wonders” and aiming to create a “series of song-pictures,” MacNaughton calls on bassist Charlie Hoats, violinist Susan Beliel, drummer Eddie Eicher and guitarist Carlos Menendez to help him on a 12-track musical journey through the Great Lakes State, from Grand Traverse Bay to Presque Isle to White Lake.
This Grand Rapids multi-instrumentalist and songwriter has crafted a sturdy rock album that owes as much to The Beatles as it does to The Shins, with a sonically psychedelic wallop that complements his lyrics about the conflicted human condition, ranging from the melodic edginess of “Fool Each Other” to the spare, electric piano-hued “Trouble.”
It’s the sort of utterly absorbing debut, mastered by Matt Ten Clay at Skull Studios, that makes you want to hear what Kehoe might have up his sleeve for Album No. 2.
Made by Motown
Describing himself as a musician-journalist (hmm, that has a familiar ring to it), Jeff Karoub of Dearborn creates heartfelt acoustic tributes on this five-track EP to his father (who played for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Motown Records) and his Michigan upbringing. In particular, the moody-but-fetching “Fall Comes Early” and lilting “Pitchers’ Duel with Sin” have a vintage, Cat Stevens-like feel.
Songs That Start With “C”
Jaymes Pyne is probably better known as a member of the terrific Grand Rapids noise rock trio Heavier Than Air Flying Machines. But on this solo project, which also happens to involve Josh Burge of Chance Jones and Erin Lenau, Pyne goes acoustic and harmonious in edgy, haunting and thought-provoking fashion with lines like “Socrates was on the radio yesterday” and “There’s a hole in the universe, you can stop it but you can’t reverse interruptions in the master plan.” An obscure gem.
A veteran journalist and former music writer for The Grand Rapids Press, John Sinkevics is editor and publisher of LocalSpins.com, profiling regional artists and commenting on West Michigan's music scene. He hosts "Local Spins Live" on News Talk 1340 AM in Grand Rapids at 11 a.m. Wednesdays, with a preview at 9:30 a.m. Wednesdays on WLAV-FM (96.9). He also hosts the hour-long "Local Spins on WYCE" at 11 a.m. Fridays on WYCE-FM (88.1).
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