Local Spins starts the year by spotlighting yet another flurry of new releases by Michigan artists, including projects by Dana Nyson and The Heiden Underground. Read the reviews, listen to the music.
As hectic and productive as 2022 was amid Michigan’s music scene, the next 12 months may shape up as even more eventful and engrossing.
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A bevy of local and regional artists closed out the year or have kicked off 2023 sporting new music, from EPs to full-length projects.
Scroll down for today’s spotlight on a diverse roundup of six new recordings, and check out previous reviews of albums by Michigan artists online here.
What Stands Out: Many Michiganders bore witness to the international rise of the soulful funk behemoth that is Vulfpeck, from its stellar musicianship to its viral advertising and video aesthetics to the larger universe within the various solo and side projects that stem from the main act. The Ann Arbor-bred band’s latest release, “Schvitz,” comes after a previous album of covers, re-releases and a highly publicized eBay stunt to sell the final track space to another group, so Vulfpeck fans can celebrate a true return to Vulf form. Sure, audiences were treated to the stellar musicianship and catchy hooks in projects like Vulfmon, Cory Wong & The Wongnotes and Theo Katzman and Woody Goss’ respective solo project ventures, but listeners yearning for new earworms are treated to 10 tracks guaranteed to get stuck in your head as quickly as they’ll be added to your feel-good playlist.
Digging Deeper: The elements that make Vulfpeck a frequent listen get dialed in so succinctly on Schvitz: tight performances throughout, fine-tuned production, features throughout and a celebration of ’70s dance music interwoven with band members’ own personal flare. Astute listeners will recognize some of the larger Vulf universe represented on the album with another version of Katzman’s “What Did You Mean By Love?” in the mix, a tune that fits right in with the rest of the tracks “recorded secretly in a sauna,” as their marketing emphasizes and related media relates (including a performance at the 2022 Levitate Music & Arts Festival where they wore robes and hats that they’d later wear in these videos). All in all, this is an album sure to lift your mood and your body out of your seat to dance your worries away.
Perfect For: Times you need to generate your own sunshine and cut throw a cloudy day. – Dutcher Snedeker
Listen: “Simple Step”
What Stands Out: With clean vocals, polished instrumentals and a mellow vibe, Citizen Keen speaks its truth through original songs on this 2022 release. The Grand Rapids five-piece unveils a penchant for soft rock with an Americana flare in a swift, four-song ear tease.
Digging Deeper: Roughly a decade since some of the band has worked with him, the crew returned to Michael Crittenden at Mackinaw Harvest Music Studios in Grand Rapids to record this small but spatial collection of new songs. The EP opens up with a gentle approach using warm acoustic guitar and laid-back energy. The second track, “The Search,” introduces a darker feel while reflective, sorrowful lyrics rise to the surface. Questioning the purpose of violence and war, the song pleads with the listeners to stand up and join the cause in a spoken-word bridge. Following that, a stripped down intro welcomes the third song, “Love & Kindness,” a personal musing by vocalist Sarah Keen. An emphatic electric guitar solo over a wall of instrumentals deepens the dimension of the songwriting, all wrapped up sweetly with the same intimate vocal/acoustic guitar duo with which it began. The EP concludes with a more upbeat groove accompanied by lyrics that may suggest otherwise, leaving the listener wondering what comes next.
Perfect For: Curling up in a blanket and tuning out the world to reflect on life and the powers that be. – Jennifer Bartlett
Listen: “The Search”
What Stands Out: Brilliant with spirit and painted with humor, this eccentric nine-song release from the Ann Arbor troupe is full of surprises. In a playground of sound, the quartet uses a myriad of instruments and styles from across the globe that takes improv to another level – one that feels supernatural and incredibly magnetic.
Digging Deeper: Right off the bat, the album greets the audience in a peculiar way with erratic sounds, hurried percussion and a single voice brimming with soul, striking the listener with curiosity. When slapping bass comes walking hand in hand with a sweeping guitar solo and you recognize the frantic feeling that has engulfed you, a wildly impressive harmonica solo sails in and steals the spotlight. Moving through the album, it becomes apparent that this instrument, played by vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and Grammy Award-winning virtuoso Peter Madcat Ruth, is a key highlight in the songwriting for this quartet. “Appalachian Sun” stands out as the sultry, moody third track. Tribal percussion played by John Churchville, a Grammy-winning tabla player, is anchored down by alluring bass performed by internationally touring artist Brennan Andes. Ruth’s warbling, harmonica wails on while splashes of jazz guitar played by seasoned vocalist/guitarist/educator Dan Ripke add flashing neon colors to an already invigorating experience, transporting the listener to a psychedelic Spaghetti Western. The four continue to dance with each other through uncharted territories, showcasing the astounding musical chops they each encapsulate. Dynamic, thrilling and toeing the line of over-stimulating, this improvisational collection unfurls as a genuine treat for the ears.
Perfect For: Jumping in the car and heading west with nothing but a map, a good friend and a whole lot of time. – Jennifer Bartlett
Upcoming Show: Peter Madcat Ruth and John Churchville play Cafe 704 in Ann Arbor on Jan. 14
Listen: “Appalachian Sun”
Weezil Malone Band
What Stands Out: Veteran West Michigan bluesman Weezil Malone returns with a brand new record, “Desert Drive-In,” to follow up his 2017 release, “Hell Train.” Fans of the Weezil Malone Band can revel in fuzz-driven guitar work, howling and gritty vocals, and 12 solid new numbers to enjoy. It is a record that shows a rejuvenated sound from a long-time contributor to the Michigan music scene and adds to the many tunes audiences can look forward to on live shows.
Digging Deeper: A lot of life gets lived in five years, and Weezil Malone tells all kinds of stories on this record to articulate that point. Little nuggets of musicianship will perk the ears of fellow creatives as well, including riffs in 15/8, additional horns, and different styles woven into the blues-rock foundation. Whether you’ve been a fan from the beginning or being introduced through Desert Drive-In, Michigan blues fans can celebrate Weezil’s return.
Perfect For: Anyone looking to get lost in the blues while riding a fuzz-fueled wave of energy. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Show: March 18 at at Billy’s Lounge with Rockit King and Andrew Ogrodzinski (CD-release show)
Listen: “All Over Again”
What Stands Out: As Dana Nyson’s first full-length release as an artist, the album speaks to his diversity as a songwriter and artist. The album spans various genres but finds its home within the rock realm. Sprinkled in the mix of songs are a few more acoustic and singer-songwriter-like songs such as “Skinny Soul.” Aside from Nyson’s ability to transport listeners through multiple genres, the album brims with different ethereal textures that add great depth to the slate of tunes.
Digging Deeper: Nyson’s debut album shares his life-long passion and desire to perform his music. The album by the Grand Rapids artist is eight years in the making and one that can’t be pigeonholed into one genre. It boasts elements of ’80s rock, adult contemporary yacht rock and a hint of prog-rock with various harmonies, distortion and electronic textures.
Perfect for: Fans of both classic and modern rock or those who enjoy strong instrumentation and lyricism. – Sean Miller
Listen: “Brother in Arms”
The Heiden Underground
“Come Back to the Rialto”
What Stands Out: Grand Rapids’ The Heiden Underground –– led by Luke Vander Heiden, although its songs often feature other local musicians –– describes itself as “guerrilla rock ‘n’ roll.” This EP consists of just two songs; in both, the instruments are the stars of the show.
Digging Deeper: On top of vocals, title track “Come Back to the Rialto” includes instruments like drums and keyboard –– all of which are played by Vander Heiden, a versatile musician. It’s an intriguing song, poignant at times and more upbeat at others. Meanwhile, “Alternative Jam” is pure guitar. Besides Vander Heiden, this live recording showcases the instrumental skills of Cory Allen, Justin Wierenga and Koty Schoenberg –– a group of musicians who had never before played together.
Perfect For: Those who appreciate instrumental versatility and impressive musicianship. – Katie Rosendale
Listen: “Come Back to the Rialto”
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