Our second January roundup of new releases by Michigan artists ranges from hip hop to jazzy indie-folk to rock, including Kings of Strings, Nathan K. and Big B & The Actual Proof. Listen to the music.
It’s mid-January and time for Local Spins’ second review roundup of new releases by Michigan artists for 2023.
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West Michigan's music scene
As is often the case, it not only spans a bevy of genres but crisscrosses the state, showcasing tracks by a half-dozen acts.
And in case you missed them, check out more reviews of albums by Michigan artists here.
DJ Blaze 589
“Alpha King 2”
What Stands Out: Listeners and Michigan hip-hop fans will certainly remember “Alpha King,” a 2022 release from DJ Blaze 589 that featured a host of Grand Rapids artists and other regional features. To kick off 2023, audiences can soak up “Alpha King 2,” a collection of 12 new collaborations between the Grand Rapids-based DJ. Each track hits hard and demands to be bumped on a drive around town. It’s an album that celebrates DJ Blaze 589’s production, mixing and beat-crafting skills while each special guest gives a solid performance that complements the featured track.
Digging Deeper: Hip-hop music always does a great job highlighting the work of artists in their creative sphere. As often as we hear about the negative media portrayals of hip hop as a culture and simultaneously applaud the special one-time collaborative events in the touring circuit, “Alpha King 2” shows the strength and consistency in collaborative music-making in hip hop. DJ Blaze 589 sets the table for every artist to shine, and it shows the solidarity between so many artists looking to support each other. Listeners will find familiar sounds to embrace from all hip-hop eras.
Perfect For: Anybody needing some club bangers to vibe with while exploring more of the Michigan hip-hop scene. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Show: 9 p.m. Saturday at Elks, 1001 Chicago Dr. SW
Listen: NA NA (feat. Lil Deon) – Parental Advisory
Dede & The Dreamers
What Stands Out: As this Michigan group’s name suggests, this album is a dreamy experience. While leader Dede Alder contributes her smooth, floating vocals to about half of the songs, the record’s other half is purely instrumental, a unique combination of marimba, violin, bass and percussion –– contributed, respectively, by Alder, Josh Holcomb, Chris Michel and Scott Pellegrom. Alder has described the record as “crossover jazz with a heavy soul, world and folk influence.” A few standouts include “Lil’ Bean,” a song about growth that could easily play at a tropical resort, “Time to Make Change,” a powerful, decisive tune with pulsing instrumentals and the grasping, moody “Don’t Know How.”
Digging Deeper: “Wake Up Slow” is intriguing and ethereal; in other words, it feels straight out of a fairy tale. “There is beauty in my heart. There is beauty in the dark,” Alder sings, her voice just the tiniest bit eerie. The song’s magical mood relies heavily on its instrumental parts, especially the marimba –– and there’s even a key change.
Perfect For: Those looking for a unique, almost spiritual experience. – Katie Rosendale
Upcoming Show: March 30 at Kalamazoo’s Clover Room
Listen: “Wake Up Slow”
The Fever Haze
“An Apple on the Highest Branch”
What Stands Out: Rich in nostalgia and rolling in emotion, this Holland quartet reaches out to a broad audience in this 12-song collection. Sharp edges of electric guitar and radiant synthesizer are rounded out by the softness of soothing piano and wistful serenading, offering to the listener a true Midwest-coast rock sound.
Digging Deeper: After various lineup changes and a brief hiatus placing the band’s seven-year run on hold, members Jackie Kalmink, Jim Versluis, Eric Beck and Mike Greene returned to the West Michigan music scene in 2019. In September of that year, the team teased their fans with the five-song EP, “R.I.P. Again,” and continued to push forth to follow up with this full song and dance. Drenched in reverb and echo, the group reconnects to showcase their knack for creating space to breathe through the large sound of their soulful songwriting. Rich textures brought about by layers of complex vocal harmonies, poised percussion, complex vocal harmonies, trilling flute and swooning saxophone, the group explores storytelling through instrumentals that have an ongoing conversation with the lyrics. With flares of Bread, America, James Taylor and The Eagles, “An Apple” presents a modern adaptation and a respectful nod to classic American soft rock music.
Perfect For: Fans of Manchester Orchestra, Steely Dan. – Jennifer Bartlett
Listen: “Warm Glow”
The Kings of Strings
“The Kings of Strings”
What Stands Out: This Detroit-based band’s self-titled debut album is pure rock ’n’ roll. With strong, gritty vocals, driving and catchy strings and solid percussion, “The Kings of Strings” is a record characterized by a constant pulse of energy. Standouts include opener “In The Mind,” “One Hell of a Ride” and “We Were Young.”
Digging Deeper: The four-piece band was originally formed in 2016 by a group of high school classmates who wanted to cover rock icons like Led Zeppelin and Green Day. In 2018, the band started to write its own music, too. Today’s The Kings of Strings looks a little different than its initial lineup: original vocalist Giovanni Rugiero was replaced by Aaron Weisman, and Noah Wojcik replaced original drummer Ben Bustamante. Meanwhile, guitarist Jacob St. Pierre and bassist Luke Porada have been with the band since the beginning.
Perfect For: Fans of classic rock, like AC/DC. – Katie Rosendale
Listen: “In the Mind”
What Stands Out: For this three-track EP, Michigan-raised, Nashville-based artist Nathan K. –– Nathan John Klages in full –– explores everything from pushing onward, with “Tryin,” to hurried (and empty) exchanges between bands in the more fun “Do Do Do.” Although his songs are moody, pensive and laidback, typically relying on guitar and simple harmonies, don’t let the musical mood fool you: His message is anything but hopeless.
Digging Deeper: The title track, “A Dozen,” focuses on the uncertainty of the other: “I got a crush who really liked me, but I thought she might run away if she knew the real me,” Klages explains. The precarious situation goes both ways: “I might be completely wrong about you, too,” he sings. But at its core, love is an enigma –– and sometimes, against all odds, it just works. The song ends with an unexpectedly heartwarming description of an overheard first date, in which one party “was going on and on about a guinea pig in Argentina that she ate.” “If it were me, I would have gotten up and run,” Klages sings. “But it was really nice how well they got along.” So maybe there’s hope after all.
Perfect For: Those who enjoy more peaceful music with introspective lyrics, à la Sufjan Stevens. – Katie Rosendale
Listen: “A Dozen”
Big B and the Actual Proof
“The Noir Album”
What Stands Out: Film noir fans are in luck: Detroit-based blues trio Big B & the Actual Proof have created a 10-track cinematic masterpiece with “The Noir Album.” Each song is a lyrical treat, telling tales of dangerous women, murders provoked by fortune cookies and nice guys who suddenly snap. And the band relies on serious musical skill –– with leader Brian Burleson (“Big B”) on vocals and guitar, Erin Pitman on drums and Mitch Sharpe on bass, in addition to several featured musicians from the Detroit area –– to evoke powerful emotions and make you feel like you, too, are a character in a film noir. If you want an album to raise your heart rate and get your blood pumping, this is the one.
Digging Deeper: “Five Hundred Large” is a tale of a heist that spans over six minutes. It’s a song characterized by constant, driving energy, which builds from the initial planning to the bank robbery itself –– “dig dig dig dig” is repeated time and time again, creating an appropriate sense of urgency –– to their eventual discovery by the police. But the narrator is perfectly unfazed by this little setback: “I won’t get caught when I do it again,” the song ends. As an added bonus, the track features horns from Detroit’s Theatre Bizarre Orchestra, which specializes in all things dark and dramatic.
Perfect For: Those who enjoy dramatic musical projects like the Decemberists’ “Hazards of Love.” – Katie Rosendale
Upcoming Shows: Feb. 24 and Feb. 26 at Detroit Auditorium; March 3 at Detroit’s Corktown Music Festival
Listen: “Five Hundred Large”
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