Today, Local Spins takes a deep dive into six recent, varied releases by artists from across West Michigan — Kalamazoo to Grand Rapids to Traverse City. Listen to tracks from all of the recordings.
The never-ending Michigan winter has a silver lining: Getting to warm up inside with fresh releases by artists from across West Michigan.
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Today, Local Spins rounds up the latest from a young blues-rock phenom with a fresh approach, a potent Grand Rapids rapper, three rock bands boasting a singular vibe and the debut by an all-star ensemble of Kalamazoo musicians.
Check out previous Local Spins album reviews here.
What Stands Out: That Albion-based guitarist Jake Kershaw decided to self-title his latest, long-anticipated studio album says a lot about the development of this young, virtuoso guitarist who’s wowed fans since sharing the stage with blues icon Jonny Lang at age 14. After all, the 11-track affair recorded at Grand Haven’s Third Coast Recording, produced by Bill Chrysler and engineered by Kevin Kozel represents Kershaw’s refashioned identity as a 21-year-old musician and songwriter – still more than able and happy to churn out blues-rock sizzlers such as “Stay On the Line” while adding infectious pop, roots rock, soul and even country elements to his repertoire.
Digging Deeper: The addition of tasty, rollicking piano and keyboard parts courtesy of Dutcher Snedeker and Joe Hettinga give numerous tracks (“Trip in My Mind,” “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” “Never Not Gonna Love You,” “In Case You Were Wondering”) a lush, more polished sound than Kershaw’s past recordings, providing him a diverse, smartly produced set to showcase his music as he shops this collection to record labels. And make no mistake, while Kershaw views this as “the new version of Jake” with a “more modern and somewhat contemporary flair,” his guitar prowess remains on full, uber-impressive display, from the acoustic flash of “Jerry’s Breakdown” to the searing electric guitar on “I Will Go My Way” that closes it all out. He continues to push his guitar mastery forward while honing his writing skills (with some collaborative help) on the album’s nine original tracks. (Note: Released in January, the CD currently is available only at Kershaw’s live shows or by contacting him at email@example.com.)
Perfect For: The blues fan with an open mind and anyone who appreciates delectable guitar work. – John Sinkevics
Upcoming Show: May 20 at Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill with Hank Mowery & The Hawktones
Listen: “I Will Go My Way”
“From the North”
What Stands Out: “From the North” celebrates the first collaboration between Ajax Stacks and his longtime best friend, Scott MacDonald, who shared a driveway between their childhood homes on Franklin Street in Grand Rapids. After each artist spent years building their careers and honing their crafts on different sides of the country, they both ended up moving back to Grand Rapids with the added desire to work together for the first time in 30 years of friendship. It is a record that flows effortlessly from track to track, blending choice sample cuts with a variety of instruments and styles. The lyrics are equal parts raw and reflective, and Ajax Stacks showcases why he continues to have a career in the broader hip hop community.
Digging Deeper: In a time where artists are now able to travel, plan and collaborate more since the start of the pandemic, an album such as “From the North” welcomes an opportunity to reconnect as peers and longtime friends. The blending of Texas-, Georgia- and Grand Rapids-born talents, along with a host of other guests on the record, offers this unique intersection of experiences, passions and performing/producing styles that confidently strides into 2022.
Perfect For: Backyard BBQ hangs and hip hop fans who love cross-pollination in their music, bumping the tunes for everyone to hear. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Show: April 20 at The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids (Green Mitten anniversary event)
“In With the Id Crowd”
What Stands Out: Fake Baseball is a band born from a passionate collaborative spirit and honed with skillful craftsmanship of its many expert musicians. The core group includes personnel from The Go Rounds, Last Gasp Collective, Saxsquatch & The Bridge Band, Bedroom Ceilings and Hip Pocket, emphasizing the diverse vocabulary and musical experience expressed throughout the record. In a recent Local Spins interview, the band describes its sound as “between Bjork and Dolly Parton,” detailing an “eclectic art pop” record that nestles earworm vocal hooks among a tapestry of soundscapes and styles. From the arrangements to the production to the many performing artists on each track, “In With The Id Crowd” is one of the strongest debuts from a West Michigan band in years.
Digging Deeper: The collective knowledge poured into this record is outstanding, and in spite of such a large personnel handling each step of the process the album, it all feels cohesive without feeling overwhelming. Fake Baseball challenges listeners without alienating them, even with the music being so eclectic and their name being a reference to “Major League Redditball,” something the average Internet user may never stumble across. That’s what makes this band so invigorating and refreshing: It’s a truly passionate expression of artistic joy that does not come at the expense of its audience. The house of Fake Baseball stands tall and elevates others to dance among the cosmos in joyous song.
Perfect For: Those who fiercely desire to paint their lives with a rich, sonically colorful palette of musicianship and songwriting. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Show: 8 p.m. today (Feb. 23) at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo (opening for Proxima Parada)
Listen: “Half of Me”
The American Hotel System
What Stands Out: Part comedic radio drama and part rock-fueled social commentary, “Interrobang” presents a wonderfully unique listening experience. Listeners are treated to hook-filled rock anthems that morph into vintage advertisements read from a nostalgic past when confident transatlantic speech perforated the American household with jingles about everything from groceries to the latest “life-changing” products. Neither the music nor the comedy suffers from the combination of the two; it provides a compelling backdrop to enhance the messages expressed in the lyricism on the album that officially gets released Friday (Feb. 25).
Digging Deeper: The American Hotel System sits comfortably in the worlds that the Grand Rapids band creates, between the hours spent crafting each song to the aesthetically succinct storytelling woven into the transitions between each tune. As lead vocalist Jacob Betts explains, “Weaving these songs together is a meta-narrative fiction of the tongue-in-cheek nostalgia from the ‘50s and ‘60s, the era which the interrobang (the combination of a question mark and exclamation point) was derived to ask rhetorical questions in advertisement copy. This gaudy rhetoric acts as a satirical lens through which Interrobang commentates on contemporary Western culture.” This record showcases band members unafraid to be thoroughly creative and diverse with how they present their art.
Perfect For: Info-tainment junkies and rock anthem diehards looking to strike up a conversation of how life and music intersect. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Shows: Saturday (Feb. 26) at The Pyramid Scheme (with Feeding Grizzlies, Laine Rex, Darcy Moran); March 8 for Recovery-Infused Yoga’s Smile Drive 2022 in Grand Rapids; May 27 at The Stray in Grand Rapids (with Low Phase)
“To Krel A Mockingboyne”
What Stands Out: As lo-fi continues to grow in popularity, dreary West Michigan maintains some of the best of its kind. Released October of 2021, indie rockers The Krelboynes honor the authentic blemishes of music and human nature in “To Krel A Mockingboyne.” These eight tracks demonstrate a delicate, relaxed and abstract shoegaze aesthetic; incredibly fitting for gloomy, transient Kalamazoo.
Digging Deeper: As vocals purr over laid-back instrumentals, the opening song “Homeward Bound” vibrates with the most positivity offered on the record. Continuing on through the collection, hints of Silversun Pickups, Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky peer out, embracing melancholy soundscapes, stopping short of any piano or synth layers other influencing bands may utilize. Instead, members Trey Marks, Brett Burradell and Spanky Doom keep it simple with savory guitar, rounded bass tones, unhurried drums and epochal vocals. The third track “Toilet Plus Paper” takes it even further by omitting the human voice entirely, bringing a continual instrumental that encourages the listener to space out into a drifty daydream. Chris Frankhauser of Raygun Recording Studio (Kalamazoo) took to the recording, mixing and mastering of this tender, soothing math rock endeavor.
Perfect For: Slowly shaking off that Sunday morning hangover. – Jennifer Bartlett
“Embrace the Rock”
What Stands Out: Not that there aren’t contemporary elements to “embrace” on this Traverse City band’s full-length debut album, but this 10-track collection produced by award-winning guitarist/composer/producer Jabo Bihlman feels like it could have been released in the mid-70s at the height of the classic rock era. From the opening guitar notes on “New Day” to the piano-centered “Nowhere to Go” that winds things up, this six-piece outfit revels confidently in tracks that recall acts such as Mott the Hoople, Marshall Tucker Band and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
Digging Deeper: J Hawkins (lead vocals, guitar, harmonica), Mike Swogger (lead guitar), Jon Wall (lead guitar), Billy Policastro (keys), Sterling Hill (drums), Dale Dumbrille (Bass, vocals) and Danielle Wininger (vocals) not only seem comfortable rocking out in somewhat bluesy fashion (“See You”), but weave tender ballads into the mix, too (“I Know”) – adding to their mission of “bringing a hopeful feel to these dark times.” The organ-fueled “Let’s Have Drink” also features Kid Rock guitarist and Detroit-area native Kenny Olson.
Perfect For: Getting the party started, with enough pensive balladry for slow dancing, too. – John Sinkevics
Upcoming Shows: Saturday (Feb. 26) at Odawa Casino in Petoskey; March 3 at Encore 201 in Traverse City (unplugged show); March 17 at Thirsty Fish Sports Grille in Traverse City; March 25 at Hayloft Inn in Traverse City; April 1 at Union Street Station in Traverse City.
Listen: “Falling Down”
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