Local Spins’ second batch of November reviews of regional album releases covers a lot of musical territory from hip hop to hard rock to ’60s sizzle to boundary-pushing jazz. Listen to selected tracks.
With the holiday shopping season set to really get under way this Thanksgiving week, the gift of Michigan music should be at the top of the list, especially for music lovers across the Great Lakes State.
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Here are reviews of several 2018 releases worth considering for that holiday shopping list — or just cranking up for yourself. And check out earlier reviews of recordings by Michigan artists in our “ALBUM REVIEWS” section.
“Ghosts of Moto”
This certainly doesn’t sound like music from a band with roots extending back more than 20 years. “Ghosts of Moto,” the fifth album from this trio of Grand Rapids rock vets, sounds modern and fresh all the way through. Catchy rock vocals are met with metal instrumentation which recall the likes of Foo Fighters and Avenged Sevenfold. Singer/guitarist Chris Cooney’s guitar work is a standout element of the record, with brooding riffs, lyrical guitarmonies and a screaming solo on the song “Memories of Me” that would do the ‘80s proud. It’s certainly heavy and aggressive music made by talented musicians and, yet, there’s melody at the forefront of every song. Take “Cosmosis,” for example, which moves from a massive, melodic chorus to a soft, clean bridge before launching into a breakdown filled with chunky riffing and brutal screams. Music of this nature has topped rock radio charts for more than a decade, but seems underrepresented in the West Michigan music scene. Thankfully, we have Moto to bang our heads to. – Devin Anderson
Upcoming Show: Thursday (Nov. 21) with EPCYA and The Westside Rebellion at Local 741 in Grand Rapids.
Sligh Talkbox has an unmistakable attitude and style. The Grand Rapids hip hop artist brings it in spades on his uber-funky second album, “Heat.” It’s one big party across these 19 tracks, evoking the feeling of summer with loud beats and funky synths and guitars. And while the origins of party began with G-funk in California, Sligh’s take on funky hip-hop is very Grand Rapids-centric, with references to local highways and life in the midwest. A long list of producers and featured vocalists liven up the album, including a verse from G-funk legend Shade Sheist on “Summer Comin’.” Even in good company, much of the album, including its title track, is produced and performed by Sligh himself. Check out “Heat” below, where Sligh plays a funky guitar line — and shows off a decked-out Oldsmobile in downtown Grand Rapids in a video for the track. It makes the locale of Ionia Street seem almost tropical. But for “Heat,” that feels right. – Devin Anderson
Listen: “Heat” (Explicit)
Few musical explorations make me smile more than uncorking another album from The JetBeats. The Grand Rapids rock band with an early Beatles and Mersey Beat bent delights in authentic, from the-heart, pop-hued rock ditties with the just the right slices of ’60s harmonies and guitar twang. Their latest seven-song romp is no exception, from the rollicking uptempo “Dancing on the Sun” that gets it all going to the reverb- and surf-laden instrumental, “The Unsalted Sea,” seven songs later. Of course, it helps that the album was recorded in Grand Rapids’ just-as-authentic, all-analog Goon Lagoon studio giving it those perfect vintage touches. And after listening to the stellar vocals and jangling guitars of “I Follow You,” I’m convinced the band’s trip to Liverpool awhile back – hanging out with old comrades of the Fab Four – rubbed off on frontman Morgan May Moallemian and his mates. It’s a grin-inducing triumph. – John Sinkevics
Upcoming Show: 10 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 24) at Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill in Grand Rapids (CD-release show with a performance by Shimmy Shack Burlesque)
Listen: “Dancing on the Sun”
It’s evident within less than a minute of “Light in the Darkness” that Kalamazoo’s Benje Daneman is a master trumpeter and composer. Beyond Daneman’s musical prowess, the movements and performances by Daneman’s talented “Searchparty” band are thrilling and relaxing in equal measure. Vocalist Ashley Daneman, saxophonist Greg Ward, pianist Rob Clearfield, bassist Andrew Vogt and drummer Jon Deitemyer play together beautifully. Benje Daneman’s arrangements are pleasantly formal and yet, the album is full of melodic meanderings which quite literally “jazz” things up. It’s hardly a passive listen, particularly on songs with vocals from Ashley Daneman. “Lamps” features gorgeous lead vocals over a musical arrangement which starts small and crescendos into a busy jam. “Children of the Light” might be the album’s most triumphant moment, wherein the themes of light and dark are explored lyrically and musically. And hear the drumming toward the end of “You Are the Light.” Listened to as one continuous suite of music, “Light in the Darkness” certainly contends with any contemporary jazz being lauded over today. – Devin Anderson
Upcoming Show: Jan. 13 at Kalamazoo Valley Museum in Kalamazoo.
Listen: “The Light”
The Blue Pines
“Separate Sets of Eyes”
There’s a haunting sort of British-hued ’80s feel to parts of “Separate Sets of Eyes,” the debut album from the Grand Rapids rock band The Blue Pines. The indie-rockers also manage to deftly weave an Americana feel into their bluesy alt-rock which gives this 11-track project a truly distinctive flavor, unlike any other outfit on West Michigan’s music scene. The five-piece band led by Tyler Newkirk, with Jake Krull, Brian Johnson, Roz Clayton and Cody Rawson also on board, establishes its fetching approach from the get-go on the opening track “Miles & Miles” and doesn’t let up, with growling and searing guitar work enhanced by nicely arranged keys, a solid rhythm section and fetching harmonies. – John Sinkevics
Upcoming Show: Dec. 1 at Billy’s Lounge in Grand Rapids (with Casa Blue)
There are certain players in Michigan’s music scene who instantly earn a nod of the head or a smile from fellow musicians, an acknowledgment not only of their in-demand, top-notch musicianship but also of their ability and willingness to collaborate freely with others. Traverse City Dobro player and lap-steel guitarist Joe Wilson is one of those players. And with this Earthwork Music studio collection – something Wilson says was aimed at showcasing “ elite instrumentalism in acoustic music” – Wilson will be making lots of listeners of bluegrass and acoustic music nod their heads and smile, too, with this trio that brings together two other highly respected players: Mandolinist Don Julin and upright bassist Kevin Gills. The grin-inducing tracks range from infectious originals such as “Slam Dunk” or “Green Street,” to brilliantly arranged covers of classics such as Bill Monroe’s “Big Mon,” Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” and The Beatles’ “Oh! Darling.” It’s also the sort of collection that’s liable to leave fans craving for more. – John Sinkevics
Upcoming Shows: Friday (Nov. 23) at Union Street Station in Traverse City; Nov. 30 with Elizabeth Landry at St. Ambrose Cellars in Beulah
Listen: “Slam Dunk”
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