This mid-October round-up of new Michigan releases includes creepy pre-Halloween fun and singer-songwriter charm from the Upper Peninsula’s Michael Waite to Detroit’s Mike Ward.
It might end up being a record-breaking year when it comes to new releases by Michigan artists.
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The flood of EPs and full-length albums continues with this mid-October round-up featuring bands and solo acts from Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Marquette and elsewhere across the region, including the latest edition of a creepy Halloween collection. And there’s more to come.
Check out previous Local Spins reviews of Michigan recordings here.
“Beleive In …”
What Stands Out: Fresh off of his busiest summer in years, Kalamazoo cellist Jordan Hamilton treats listeners to some new music on his latest album. As he describes it, the release is filled with songs “written post-accident with [his] MPC or in [his] Freedom series during quarantine.” Many of these singles were heard throughout the summer, and fans will be delighted to relive some stellar moments from a stacked summer of Michigan festivals. At just under 13 minutes, this release begs to be repeated to groove with everything layered on the record.
Digging Deeper: For those unaware, the accident Jordan refers to was one that left his car totaled and his future in music on hold for months as he recovered and did hours of physical therapy. Due to his range of motion being limited and therefore being unable to play his cello, he saw the opportunity as a chance to dive in and learn a new skill set. Combined with his infectious passion for the arts and sharing moments with audience members, each track on “Beleive In” gives listeners a curated vibe with Jordan confidently at the helm.
Perfect For: Anyone who understands overcoming stacked odds to return to what you love. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Shows: Oct. 29 at Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids; Oct. 30 as part of Last Gasp Collective (album-release) at Papa Pete’s in Kalamazoo
Listen: “Beleive In”
“Songs of the Pumpkin Boy Vol. VII”
What Stands Out: Since 2016, West Michigan artists have come together each year to create a compilation album loosely organized around the theme of Halloween. This year’s release has been described as “the largest and most varied lineup” in Pumpkin Boy’s history, with 18 dynamic tracks. The album jumps from genre to genre: there are hauntingly simple country songs, including opener “A Haunting (Halloween Night, 1981)” by Stovepipe’s Caravan; driving indie-rock tunes, like Shankool’s “Motive Unknown,” and instrumental tracks, such as the eerie “Charlemagne’s Catacombs” by Nick Slade, which employs the sounds of dripping water to great effect. It’s all tied together by the spooky theme.
Digging Deeper: Each artist approaches Halloween in their own unique way. There are truly creepy supernatural tracks, like the witch-themed “Hexenzeit” by Bilge — an English-German hybrid. On the other hand, Nick Slade’s “Pumpkin Boy” is a more lighthearted take on the theme: Pumpkin Boy is a lovable figure who arises each Halloween “in search for a new friend.” There’s even a cannabis-themed song: Charlie Darling’s fun, hazy “Devil’s Advocate.”
Perfect For: Traipsing through corn mazes, eating candy corn and preparing for the magic of All Hallows’ Eve alongside some stellar local artists. – Katie Rosendale
Listen: “Motive Unknown” by Shankool
“A Summer Night”
What Stands Out: Samil, a fixture of the West Michigan hip-hop community, has returned with “A Summer Night,” which he describes as “a collection of beats put together during several summer nights.” Combining warm textures, laid back grooves and swirling keyboard sounds with choice sampling, this record immediately sinks you into the passenger seat for a long, chill summer drive around the night lit city. Smokey vignettes permeate throughout, with the production carving out space for every color expressed.
Digging Deeper: For someone already known as a prominent collaborator with artists like Wuzee, hearing Samil’s beat-making style adds more to the list of reasons why Samil continues to command a space for himself in the scene with such a consistent output. There are elements of modern and classic hip hop interwoven with jazz and neo soul for a cozy listening environment. “A Summer Night” instantly sets the mood for a late, relaxing night easing out of your day and into a soulful moment of respite.
Perfect For: Folks looking for some head-nod this holiday season. – Dutcher Snedeker
Listen: “88 Couture”
“We’ve Always Been At Home”
What Stands Out: The melding of finger-picking and electric guitars with strings and plaintive vocals (and birdsong!) gives this recording depth. Folksy, yes, yet with an underpinning of angst in the lyrics and sometimes surprising instrumentation. “Please marry me, won’t you come back to me” goes the refrain on “Please Marry Me,” set off by twangy dobro/steel guitar and – tuba?
Digging Deeper: The vocals from this Upper Peninsula singers-songwriter recall a young Kenny Rogers, jazzy British folkie John Martyn and even Martyn’s one-time pal Nick Drake by turn. The only real vocal misstep comes on “Blackbird,” where his voice is accompanied by that of a young child, which may be cute for families, but unfortunately detracts from the song. The brevity of the songs works to the album’s advantage. The longest is only 4:06, and when you fill them with the longing of “Pretty little river rolling free, What you tryin′ to do to me? I’d give up all I own to call you darling” (from “Pretty Little River”), they pack a punch. The musical accompaniment adds to the atmosphere, especially the mournful fiddle performed on two tunes by his high school orchestra teacher. Those school connections include the occasional orchestral swells, written by Waite and performed by students and their teachers from nearby high schools. Waite also made field recordings near his off-the-grid home north of Marquette, and the various bird songs introduce or conclude several of the songs. They help tie together tunes that might be disparate in and of themselves. For example, the keening of gulls opens “O Lord Put Me Out On The Sea.” The sea shanty is a lament over the fact “There’s no work in the mine and no work in the mill” and he only wants to “fall off the pier in a basket of dreams.” It fades into the cries of the sandhill crane on “I Built A Fire.” Sublime.
Perfect For: Building a house. No, really: Waite recorded in his home during its construction and afterward. So why not try it yourself? Just make sure your home has a nice back porch, as this is the kind of recording great for hanging out there with friends and family. – Ross Boissoneau
Listen: “The Song of the River Thrush”
What Stands Out: The Detroit-based Signal Quartet has recently been on tour supporting its debut record, a collection of compositions that allow for wide-ranging improvisation and interplay between Ben Wolkins (trumpet/flugelhorn), Ian Blunden (guitar), Eric Nachtrab (bass), and Rockford native Sean Perlmutter (drums). Every track on the record was written by Erich Nachtrab and shaped by the ensemble aside from two covers: “Shanty In Old Shanty Town” (by Ira Schuster, Jack Little, and Joe Young) and “Radio Cure” (by Jay W Bennett and Jeffrey Scot Tweedy). Fans of breakbeat and bebop alike will find moments to enjoy on Signal Quartet, providing listeners with a solid introduction to this new artistic venture.
Digging Deeper: Signal Quartet shows its polish as a group, taking delight in exploring every inch of a tune with improvisational interaction, and their ability to express both the individual players and the whole of the group throughout their debut release. Their tight musicianship pairs beautifully with their shared love of expansive improvisation. Signal Quartet is a solid listen.
Perfect For: Jazz fans who are looking to widen their definition of the genre and hear some solid, Midwestern talent. – Dutcher Snedeker
Listen: “Endless Runner”
What Stands Out: Detroit-based singer-songwriter Mike Ward, who also goes by the name “Psychosongs,” released this three-song EP, which he dedicated to “those who raise their voice, chase freedom, make their way from other lands to seek refuge and…support basic human ideals.” The album falls squarely into the folk genre, relying primarily on acoustic guitar and strong, raw vocals — although there’s also the occasional harmonica! With his stark, heartfelt lyrics, Ward paints a depressing picture of a nation plagued by intoleration and lies: “I don’t remember how I fell this far,” he sings from the perspective of the American flag in “W.W.T.F.S.” But there’s hope, too, when people take a stand for what’s right: “Raise your voice,” Ward implores listeners in “Wishing Well.” “Make it heard.”
Digging Deeper: In “Immigration Nation,” Ward writes from the perspective of hardworking immigrants, who “labor in shadows,” working hard just to support their family. But it’s a bleak story: the immigrants must contend with unfair pay, harsh conditions, intoleration and a lack of rights. “Some days we wonder if it’s really worth the fight,” Ward sings. “Nothing to share in this bountiful land.” Ultimately, the song is a powerful argument for appreciating immigrants as the backbone of the country — and, of course, treating them accordingly.
Perfect For: Fans of Jason Isbell and Bruce Springsteen with an interest in social justice. – Katie Rosendale
Upcoming Shows: Oct. 28 at Trinity House Theatre in Livonia; Nov. 18 at The Raven Cafe in Port Huron; Dec. 10 at the Detroit Gaelic League
Listen: “Immigration Nation”
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