It’s an uber-diverse, early April roundup of new Michigan albums, from blues to rock to hip hop to adventurous classical music and compelling gems from Annagail and Brian Koenigknecht.
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“Fear of the Dawn”
What Stands Out: It’s only apropos that a track titled “Taking Me Back” would announce Jack White’s return after a crippling pandemic and all manner of mayhem. It’s also only apropos that the first of two new studio albums would announce that return with equal amounts of full-throttled, guitar-driven turbulence, savagely inventive effects, clever keyboard work and brilliant twists and turns – not to mention world music textures, a guest appearance by rapper Q-Tip (“Hi-De-Ho”) and prog-rock sophistication (“Eosophobia,” “Eosophobia – Reprise”). The 12-song collection represents the innovative Detroit native at his fearless best, which might not please everyone at all turns, but continues his valiant and uber-heavy, boundary-expanding approach.
Digging Deeper: Bassist Dominic John Davis says that as problem-solver in the studio, it’s “all about process” with White, who alters and fine tunes his songs as he goes to allow the music to tell him where to go. “If you don’t put something down first,” Davis says, “he doesn’t have anything to work with.” Playing most of the instruments on many of the tracks, he had plenty to work with on the ever-startling “Fear of the Dawn,” the altar-ego to the more acoustic and gentle “Entering Heaven Alive,” set for release on July 22.
Perfect For: Fist-pumping, foot-stomping and twirling through your living room with your speakers at full volume. – John Sinkevics
Upcoming Shows: 6 p.m. Saturday (April 9) at Masonic Temple Theatre in Detroit; 8 p.m. Sunday (April 10) at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids (tickets available here). FYI: During his tour-opening show Friday at Masonic Temple, White got engaged and then married on stage to opening act Olivia Jean.)
Listen: “Eosophobia (Reprise)”
“Blues Without You”
What Stands Out: There’s plenty of personal, autobiographical storytelling on “Blues Without You” – from “Arkansas,” that kicks things off with McCray’s smooth, trademark, electric blues-guitar fire to the acoustic and spare “I Play the Blues,” which wraps it all up a dozen songs later. They bookend what can only be described as a muscular and robust blues-fueled collection from the much-beloved Saginaw singer and guitarist, smartly produced by genre icon Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith, with ear-pleasing guest appearances by Bonamassa, Warren Haynes and Joanna Connor.
Digging Deeper: There’s more than just McCray’s tasty guitar work and soulful singing to appreciate, with top-drawer keyboard and horn accents, sweet backing vocals and solid rhythm work propelling songs such as “Good Die Young.” It’s McCray’s first album in more than seven years, so there’s also a lot of pent-up demand for new recorded music from a guy who’s long been a Michigan favorite and who’s highly regarded nationally. McCray also makes it clear there’s more to come: “I’ll keep on doing it until the day I die,” he sings on the closing track.
Perfect For: Michigan blues mavens and anyone needing some inspiration at a low ebb. – John Sinkevics
Upcoming Show: May 3 at Listening Room in Grand Rapids (tickets available here)
Grand Rapids Symphony
“Strauss and Villa-Lobos”
What Stands Out: GRS Music Director Marcelo Lehninger assembles three recordings by Richard Strauss and Heitor Villa-Lobos in his first commercial recording with the Grand Rapids Symphony as well as the orchestra’s first in many years. Though recorded before a live audience in DeVos Performance Hall, it’s superbly engineered to sound just like a studio recording. Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben” is an enormous work with intricate and intriguing solos from nearly every principal player. Lehninger and a supersized orchestra of 102 musicians give a magnificent, heart-felt account of the epic tone poem. Gorgeous on-stage and off-stage brass and delightfully nimble woodwinds provide an emotionally enriching experience. Concertmaster James Crawford offers a captivating solo performance as the flirtatious, occasionally perverse, heroine of “A Hero’s Life.
Digging Deeper: Scrumptious music of Heitor Villa-Lobos. Guest soprano Jessica Rivera partners beautifully with the Brazilian-born conductor and orchestra, melding into one instrument for two movements of the Brazilian composer’s “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 5. Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus joins the orchestra for Villa-Lobos’ intoxicating Chôros No. 10 “Rasga o Coração,” which translates as “tears the heart.” The performance lives up to its title. It’s as adventurous as it is exciting.
Perfect For: Local GRS fans, but also for admirers of Brazil’s most celebrated composer, lovingly interpreted by a native son. – Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk
Upcoming Shows: April 28-29 at DeVos Performance Hall for Dvorak 7 + Sitar Concerto; May 19-20 at DeVos Performance Hall for Mahler’s Titan (tickets available here)
Listen: “Chôros No. 10 Rasga o Coração Part. 1”
Wuzee & Dusty Fingerz
What Stands Out: Wuzee (Michigan) and Dusty Fingerz (NYC) collaborate on “100 Summers” to showcase Wuzee’s clever wordplay overtop beats layered in mystery and psychedelia. Each track fluidly moves between boom-bap beats with choice instrumental samples from soulful decades gone by, with voice messages detailing a narrative grounding some of the spacier, surreal textures. This release is a great addition to the Michigan hip-hop catalog, and it has even been recently featured on Okayplayer in a collection of recent releases being promoted by the popular website.
Digging Deeper: Anytime a hip-hop artist wants to collaborate, there’s an exciting moment of uncertainty. That moment of discovery arrives as two talented individuals come together and delight in how each artist works makes a record shine. Wuzee and all of the guest rappers on this release provide great verses around such a strong foundation laid by Dusty Fingerz. The fact that this record flows so effortlessly is a testament to how well they worked together in the studio.
Perfect For: A chill summer evening at a friend’s spot, letting the music blur with the ambient environment and ride the vibes late into the night. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Show:Wuzee & Samil at The Pyramid Scheme on May 19 (with JRob & Bedrock and Les Creatif), part of Local Spins 10th Anniversary Celebration (tickets available here)
Listen: “Surfer Ghouls” (feat. Lokye)
“Baby It’s You”
What Stands Out: Upon pressing play, the listener is automatically transported to another dimension when delicate blues riffs flirt with the ears. Suddenly, you’re sitting in the center of a dim, hazy club, hearing the clinking of glassware while a romantic scent of sweet bourbon and yesteryear’s cigar smoke dance with your senses. A single spotlight falls onto the stage, illuminating the songstress as buttery bliss pours from her lips. The tantalizing voice serenades you beside crooning, soul-entrenched guitar, leaving every person in the audience to melt into a puddle in their seat.
Digging Deeper: For a dynamic 47 minutes, Zeeland songwriters Jennifer and Jared Adams send you on a compelling journey. After a sexy album opener, the following song comes in with despondent piano and dual, harmonizing vocals that not only complement, but also seem to be communicating support and affinity towards each other. At 8-1/2-minutes long with a swelling build and a howling guitar solo, the song feels like an album ender rather than a second track. In a way, this choice seems to indicate an ending of a chapter, not the novel. Showcasing instruments like horns, synth, banjo, cabasa and mandolin, the variety offers texture and a sundry of tones throughout, making it clear that these musicians have rehearsed this rodeo many times before. The songwriting is intricate, the recording is polished and the performances are emotive. Annagail describes it as one of “renewed, authentic voices and the most honest and vulnerable songs [they’ve] ever released” adding they hope the songs “move you – in your heart and in your feet.” Feeling warmly personal, this eight-track, genre-warping adventure comes to a close with bright beams of choral rays, saccharine harmonies and an upbeat swing instilling a sense of calm, peace and hope.
Perfect For: Floating on a pontoon in the middle of a quiet inland lake on a cool, late summer evening, curled up with a robust cabernet, an oversized sweater and your favorite person. – Jennifer Bartlett
Upcoming Show: June 17 at Lynne Sherwood Waterfront Stadium in Grand Haven
Listen: “Baby It’s You”
“The Dirty Work”
What Stands Out: Brian Koenigsknecht returns with “The Dirty Work,” a record that continues to show Michiganders why he’s such a strong presence among the region’s songwriters. Each track captures a different mood, from the dreamy to the determined, all while showcasing his tasteful arranging and performing skills. No tune overstays its welcome, but rather invites the listener into a comfortable space to hear tales of love, life, and the struggles many have to overcome.
Digging Deeper: “The Dirty Work” embodies the spirit of storytelling, crafting compelling and succinct arrangements to help comfort and inform the listener. Each vignette captures a moment to learn from, painting pictures of a dynamic life filled with moments of glory and shame. Koenigsknecht does an excellent job blending artistry with authenticity, and each track adds to the pages of a book each audience member will continue to write with their own experiences, returning to previous chapters for nuggets of wisdom.
Perfect For: Lovers lost and found, dreary nights and nights on the town, singing in the rain and learning from the pain. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Show: April 22 at Bell’s Eccentric Café in Kalamazoo with Darcy Wilkin (get tickets here)
Listen: “Settled In”
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