Local Spins closes out April with another round-up of new releases by Michigan artists — ranging folk to hip hop to soul to robust rock. Listen to tracks from all of the albums.
There’s something about the renewal and budding eruption of springtime.
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West Michigan's music scene
And we’re not just talking about flowers, trees, grasses and other pollen-generating, sneeze-inducing plants.
Michigan’s music community is bursting forth with plenty of new and varied albums, too, recapped today at Local Spins, and without having to snag any allergy medications. You can check out previous Local Spins reviews online here.
What Stands Out: Primitive, organic and vulnerable, Carrie McFerrin exposes her heart openly in this diverse Americana and folk-infused album. The veteran Kalamazoo singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist leaves it all on the table in 10 candid and tender tracks, touching the hearts of mothers, fathers and lovers alike.
Digging Deeper: Closing in on 10 years since her last solo release, McFerrin returns with a heartwarming and reflective message. Appropriately titled “Postpartum,” the album circulates around the crippling mental health struggles that often come after a mother has given birth. She shows her soft side immediately while being cradled by a singing guitar solo and laidback rhythm section in “Fools Gold,” the album’s moving second track. Even more specific, McFerrin delivers a chill-inducing, tear-jerking emotive track that builds with a full choir and cuts straight to the heart with lyrics that tell a story about a mother raising an autistic child. The entirety of the album feels like an honest plea from a strong woman; the vocal delivery makes it clear that she is acutely aware of the emotional toll that it can take to ask for support but is humble and brave enough to ask anyway. Showcasing complementary textures, blues-inspired country-western, nectarous folk and “swanky twang,” this album features not only seven other musicians, but also offers a choir of five singers. It was recorded in two separate studios, including Greg Baxter at Second Story Sound in Grand Rapids as well as Ian Gorman and Samuel Peters at La Luna Recording and Sound in Kalamazoo. Partially funded by a grant courtesy of the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo and partially with personal funds, McFerrin will be performing and celebrating Mother’s Day weekend with a seated release show at Bell’s Brewery.
Perfect For: As suggested on the Kickstarter campaign “An album for hearts. An album for parents. An album for anyone who loves a special kiddo.” – Jennifer Bartlett
Upcoming Shows: Noon Thursday (April 28) at Listening Room in Grand Rapids for WYCE’s “GR Live”; Saturday (April 30) at Tantric Brewing Co. in Allegan; May 6 at Bell’s Brewery Eccentric Café in Kalamazoo (album-release show)
Listen: “Go Easy On Me”
Jesse Ray and the Carolina Catfish
“Jesse Ray and the Carolina Catfish”
What Stands Out: Longtime fans hankering patiently for Jesse Ray and The Carolina Catfish’s first new studio album in three years don’t have to wait long to get their rock ‘n’ roll fix on this self-titled release. “Man’s Back (in Town)” explodes with raucous harmonica wails, Dingo Hopp’s frenetic drumming and Jesse Ray’s familiar vocal howls. But make no mistake: There’s also a fresh, lush and more mature vibe winding its way through the album’s 12 tracks – a collection flaunting carefully constructed, tighter arrangements and more sophisticated songwriting. Recorded by Addison Eilers at Analog Time Machine and released on the Onama Media Group label, there’s still plenty of raw rockabilly fire being ignited here, but with a glossier sheen. It leaves little doubt that this is their best studio venture yet.
Digger Deeper: Jesse Ray’s vocal range and texture boast a smoother, broader tone stylistically, showcased on tracks such as “Further Away” and “Baby Mama Blues.” The same might be said for his guitar-playing, which certainly has come a long way since the duo’s humble beginnings in 2013. Of course, the “little chaotic and crazy” attitude of those early years remains, as evidenced by their recent album-release show at The Pyramid Scheme.
Perfect For: Getting a little down and dirty or turning up the volume as you get another tattoo. – John Sinkevics
Upcoming Shows: May 13 at Grand Armory Brewing in Grand Haven; May 14 at North Channel Brewing in Manistee; June 25 at Unruly Brewing in Muskegon
Listen: “Play for Keeps”
DJ Blaze 589
What Stands Out: As stated from the first track, DJ Blaze 589 returns for his new album, “Alpha King,” and he has brought a host of Michigan talent to the table as featured guests. Beats range from classic boom bap to more modern flavors, each one highlighting their respective artist’s talents while also showcasing their personalities. Topics range from celebrating black women to love/sex to the hardships of growing up in West Michigan. With the album clocking in at just over 30 minutes, it’s a perfect addition to the DJ Blaze 589 experience that he’s been cultivating since 2008.
Digging Deeper: DJs are often misunderstood in the mainstream, from older generations thinking it’s just boomy noise (i.e. dubstep) to music fans lamenting that they don’t “play instruments” or “do anything but press play.” However, hip-hop fans are well aware of how artists like DJ Blaze 589 transform sounds into experiences, as evidenced by the variety of artists he easily incorporates into his crafted beats. There is a depth of experience from over two decades of shows for both his skills as a producer and rapper. Each track flows like a live experience, complete with signature audio tags and even the shoutout to the fans alongside giving out his number directly for any aspiring artist to collaborate.
Perfect For: West Michigan hip-hop fans looking to vibe with a host of artists. – Dutcher Snedeker
Listen: Ain’t Going No Where (feat. Bee Jack)
“Wandering” & “Sandcastles”
What Stands Out: Drenched in soul and vitality, Grand Rapids’ wildly talented Elijah Russ boasts a full house in a dual album-release with “Wandering” and “Sandcastles.” While both pieces are produced with clarity and exquisitely layered, “Wandering’s” lo-fi tunes feel meditative in nature creating space for “Sandcastles” to slide in with more swagger and theatrics offering the listeners a thrilling and enamoring juxtaposition.
Digging Deeper: Embodying a laid back, chillhop vibe, Wandering is lush with calm energy. Contemporary smooth jazz laced with R&B flare, the five instrumental tracks incorporate thought-provoking voice recordings that draw the listener in closer, delivering words that dig into the subconscious. With melodies rooted in blues, the smooth guitar licks and nonchalant beats on “Swoon” are swanky yet soft, poised and sensual. The album wraps up with a surprising intimacy: an ethereal urban twist on the classic Judy Kuhn song, “Colors of the Wind,” written for Disney’s 1995 smash “Pocahontas.” Sadly, the track is under two minutes long leaving the listener’s ear grasping for just one more tranquil minute. Jumping over to “Sandcastles,” the trance on the audience is broken immediately when bright horns, inspiring lyrics and an upbeat groove awaken the senses. More cinematic than the breezy essence of its sidekick, this eight-song collection scintillates with flares of psychedelic rock, progressive funk and modern jazz featuring strings, electric guitar solos, and the exciting harmonies and syncopation of big band. “Sandcastles” comprises a wider variety of instruments, textures, voices, full choirs and tempos calling full attention to Russ’s direction. It’s no wonder this multi-faceted musician decided to split these 13 new songs into two separate works of art; The variety, sensation and ever-expanding breadth of knowledge and creativity is remarkably impressive. If “Sandcastles” is the ostentatious and extravagant vacation from reality, “Wandering” is the grounding and restful Sunday morning.
Perfect For: Fans of Vulfpeck, Fantompower, Snarky Puppy. – Jennifer Bartlett
Listen: “Brilliant Mind”
Laura Rain & The Caesars
What Stands Out: After so many trying months navigating the pandemic, Laura Rain & The Caesars are back with “Rise Again,” an album that follows a UK record deal, a collaboration on a successful sample collection, and three Detroit Music Awards. The title aptly describes the positive upward momentum the band has experienced in recent years, centering on soulful R&B tunes, funk-laden grooves, and the spirit of Motown on full display. The instrumentation, vocals, and production all capture the live-experience of the band while highlighting the many personalities that are seen around the Michigan music community. It is a celebration of artistry and a wonderful addition to their catalog for fans new and old.
Digging Deeper: Producer and songwriter George Friend says “Since our very first album, we’ve always stayed true to ourselves and remained authentic. We mix genres in interesting ways, and have performed our mix of soul, blues, retro R&B/dance music from the start. There’s a lot of variation in style. We try not to worry about the categories imposed on our music. It’s all very natural to us.” If “Rise Again” indicates anything, these talented icons deserve every accolade they have received in the past couple of years. This album is the heartbeat of what makes Detroit music so well-known, from the soulful bedrock to the wellspring of Detroit-born styles layered overtop. It’s a great listen from start to finish, offering audience members a chance to soak in the sounds of yesteryear with a fresh polish.
Perfect For: Generations of Motown music lovers looking to dance in the sun and soak in some soul. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Shows: May 7 at Hotel Royal Oak in Royal Oak; May 19-22 at Nittolo’s in Lake Leelanau
Listen: “Rise Again”
“Until We Have It All”
What Stands Out: With his latest EP, Traverse City singer-songwriter Jeff Socia creates an eclectic alt-country sound by melding styles from indie, folk and blues genres. Socia’s melodic acoustic guitar behind his emotive lyricism in tracks such as “Lover” is beyond moving. Covering all the bases, Socia also incorporates songs with upbeat percussion and vocals into the EP, including “Anything But The Best.”
Digging Deeper: Despite three singles released in 2021, “Until We Have It All” is Socia’s first release since his 2020 debut album, “Release.” An audible display of Socia’s growth as a musician, “Until We Have It All” still carries a refreshingly similar sound to his previous work. The EP from the Bay City native, consisting of a quick 5 songs under 18 minutes, may leave the listener wanting more.
Perfect For: Driving on the country backroads with the windows down on a hot summer day. – Robert Novak
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