New releases from Michigan artists Cody Robert DeWindt, Story Cafe and Adam Main are also part of this Local Spins roundup of reviews, with audio samples from all of the recordings.
New singer-songwriter-styled releases by Michigan artists get balanced against collections of hard-rock fusillades, blues and instrumental beauty in this late April round-up of Local Spins album reviews.
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The exploration of eight new recordings spans the state — from Grand Rapids to Detroit. Check out the reviews with samples of the music below.
And check out previous Michigan releases online here.
“How to Change”
What Stands Out: Loren Johnson recently released this album filled with emotions, memories, and patient, painstaking songwriting that has matured over the past few years as fans of her debut EP, “Sleepsick,” eagerly awaited her next full album. After the pandemic disrupted her touring and creative plans for 2020, the catalyst for “How To Change” evolved into a multi-year project that encompassed hours of studio work with some of Michigan’s finest musicians. It is a beautiful scrapbook showcasing Johnson’s own personal growth and triumphs in the face of overwhelming odds while being informed, mentored and supported by a loving collective of musicians and friends.
Digging Deeper: Everything on this record fits together, with careful attention to detail shown in the writing, mixing and performing from track to track. “How To Change” creates a vehicle to digest a messy life, to sit with your thoughts and confront them with kindness and heal them through song. To quote Chad Wedeven’s Facebook status after we all watched her album release set at Midtown, “If you’re gonna wait three years for the big moment, make it count.”
Perfect For: Those in need of a well to draw from in life’s noisiest moments to know that healing change is coming. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Shows: May 17 at SpeakEZ Lounge (opening for Kate Hinote Trio); May 26 for Buses By The Beach at Camp Blodgett in West Olive; Sept. `5 at Earthwork Harvest Gathering outside Lake City
Listen: “Stay Close to Me”
What Stands Out: Fueled by two decades of experience, Pop Evil’s latest digests as an infectious array of confident, dynamic and melodic tracks from the still surging, Muskegon-bred quintet. Seeking to strike that critical balance between preserving the sound that galvanized its fan base while still evolving and experimenting with new touches and technology, frontman Leigh Kakaty aptly touts this offering as “fun energy” complemented by a healthy dose of “swagger.” The band’s seventh full-length release quite frankly beams with heightened levels of maturity and confidence.
Digging Deeper: Tinkering a bit more with hints of electronica throughout, “Arrival,” the ethereal intro, quickly flows into the Orwellian, robot-voiced proclamation, “the voice in your head is a threat.” But there’s no time to analyze that intriguing lyric before the drone of deep, siren-like guitar riffs tug at your attention. And if listeners are not fully mesmerized by the time the bass and drums thunder in, they will be once the vocals are smoothly layered in. From there, expect your head to bob or foot to tap in unison with the beat for the rest of the album, which ends just as impressively as it begins. Guest artists join for the final three cuts: “Wrong Direction” with Blake Allison from Devour the Day, the penultimate track “Dead Reckoning” – the album’s hardest and most aggressive song featuring Ryan Kirby from Fit for a King – and the closer, “Raging Bull,” spotlights ZILLION joining in on lyrics.
Perfect For: Fans of hard rock, alternative metal, harmonious vocals and a lively, energetic pace. Anyone who’s faced adversity, emotional distress or tough times yet still endeavoring to stay positive, learn from the experience and emerge stronger. – Dallas Winston
Upcoming Shows: July 21 at Northern Lights Music Festival in Escanaba (next Michigan date)
Listen: “Dead Reckoning”
Sunny Bleau & The Moons
What Stands Out: Sunny Bleau & The Moons kick off the summer with their latest full-length album, a follow up to the 2021 release, “Breakfast Served Cold.” This collection of 12 songs dives into rock and the blues, complete with soulful, smokey vocals from Sunny Bleau set to a driving band from the Motor City. Among the new originals the band showcases is a cover of “Hold On, I’m Comin’” by Sam & Dave to add to their ever expanding catalog of classics the group has recorded and performed.
Digging Deeper: The album has grabbed the attention of rock and blues stations around the world, with a placement on “Radio Guitar One’s Top Rock 30 for over 78 weeks,” according to the band’s website. The group has put out a lot of music in the last three years, too, to reflect their busy programming schedule, showing their clear vision as a band to see things through. With shows coming up around the state, expect this group to join the myriad of new artists ready to take the stage for festival season.
Perfect For: Those who are always on the hunt for emerging blues talent on the Michigan scene. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Shows: May 19-20 at The Noggin Room Pub in Petoskey; May 25 at Dormouse Theatre in Kalamazoo
Listen: “Slow Burn”
What Stands Out: Story Cafe is the brainchild of two songwriters: Jeff Oxford and Phil Wilson. This five-track album, with acoustic guitar by Oxford and mixing by Wilson, also features vocalist Lauryn King, cellist David Haughey and electric guitarist/bassist Dan Agne. “Dangerous” captures many sides of romance and its ultimate end: “A Little Faster,” a paradoxically slow and simple song, begs a lover to “go a little faster”; “Just Turn Around” is a standout track about holding one’s ground in a breakup, with intricate guitar and rich cello; “Gonna Try Again,” a more energetic tune, reminisces fondly on a past relationship, wishing it would rekindle but knowing it won’t.
Digging Deeper: The collaboration is named for the site of Oxford and Wilson’s first meeting: Grand Rapids’ Story Cafe on Leonard Street, a haven for local creatives like musicians and actors. The pair has also worked together on SONGDRINK, where local songwriters meet to make their songs more radio-friendly: SONGDRINK released a compilation album, titled “Sonic Polyphonic,” earlier this year.
Perfect For: Looking back on past flames in all their messiness. – Katie Rosendale
Listen: “Just Turn Around”
“Love Never Rests”
What Stands Out: Detroit’s own Mike Ward returns with a new addition to his Psychosong discography with this collection of 11 “introspective tracks that examine observations about life, love and loss along with relationships of the past, present, and future” with an emphasis on stories told “through viewpoints of wisdom and gratitude.” Listeners are treated to some wonderful songwriting with a host of Michigan’s finest performing alongside Ward on the record – a well of inspiration from the artists who motivate his career and the people in his life who make it special.
Digging Deeper: The fact that Ward has also released two other collections of tunes with “Trouble Times” and “Particles to Pearls” in the last few months shows how deep the well runs as a veteran songwriter, performer and Michigan artist. Each tune feels like a nostalgic car ride when you’ve hit that patch of open highway, freeing up time and headspace to reflect on your life. The warm, intimate instrumentation, infectious melodies and expert arranging and performing from every member on this record all combine beautifully to tell Ward’s stories, life lessons and hope for a brighter tomorrow rooted in love and remembering what’s important.
Perfect For: Cozy, sage wisdom that can complement your summer road trip. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Show: May 13 at The Stray in Grand Rapids with Kait Rose and Jeff Troutman
Listen: “I Follow”
Cody Robert DeWindt
“Anywhere With You”
What Stands Out: Grand Rapids singer-songwriter Cody Robert DeWindt chronicles the range of emotions that come with the demise of one’s relationship — from sadness to longing to regret. DeWindt successfully matches the instrumental elements to the emotion each track evokes. While the EP has an undeniable country twang, elements of folk and alternative rock give the album a distinct sound. DeWindt wrote in a Facebook post that the EP has been in the works since 2019 and he is “very excited to get it out into the world.”
Digging Deeper: The EP begins with the lead single and title track, “Anywhere With You,” which describes a happy relationship and the idea of being with someone who can turn anything into a positive experience. Female vocal harmonies from Anna Kohn allude to the idea that the couple’s story is being told from both points of view. The EP gradually takes on a more somber tone and introduces detailed, storytelling lyrics reminiscent of folk songs. In the sweeping seven-minute track, “Everything,” DeWindt calls on specific memories as if to remind the other person how things used to be which, in turn, gives listeners insight into the details of the relationship. By the end of the EP, upbeat melodies and twangy guitar riffs transform into gentle strumming, echoing vocal harmonies, and atmospheric guitar reverb. The melancholy final track, “The Last Time,” brings the return of Kohn’s vocal harmonies and DeWindt’s retrospective view of how his relationship ended. While it may not be a happy and optimistic ending to the story, it is an honest one that reflects real life experiences.
Perfect For: Those who enjoy cathartic and honest lyricism packaged in a variety of musical moods. – Holly Holtzclaw
Upcoming Shows: May 6 at Billy’s Lounge in Grand Rapids (1 p.m. all-ages showcase with The Skeems, Gray Rapidian and Chris Clayton Loop); June 9 at Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill (with Christiana Benton and The Lunar Year)
Listen: “Anywhere With You”
What Stands Out: Folias Duo returns with a collection of new pieces highlighting the 25 years of artistic and life partnership between members flutist Carmen Maret and guitarist Andrew Bergeron. While touring around the Southwest on their annual summer travels, the duo crafted these songs on camping trips and cabin stays that pushed their creativity to new heights. It shows in the expert arranging for each instrument, the added folklore and storytelling through their imaginative writing, and even academic nuggets that will no doubt delight music scholars while also highlighting their shared careers as music educators. “Heartdance” is a wonderful tango between two artists with passion for their craft as strong and evident as their continuing partnership, and it translates to some beautiful listening experiences throughout.
Digging Deeper: A quote from their Bandcamp page sums it up best, Folias Duo makes “conversational chamber music, exploring the sonic possibilities for flute and guitar within their modern classical music background, experimenting with Argentine folk, jazz, and world music, engaging both ecological and existential themes.” It’s a beautiful blend of intellect, cultural and sonic exploration, a deep love and commitment to one another through life and song, and a shared joy in exploring and adding to the repertoire of music for classical guitar and flute. Whether it’s leaving your seat to indulge in some tango or marveling at the intricate, virtuosic ensemble musicianship in the twilight hours, this album is sure to inspire and delight when it officially releases May 5.
Perfect For: Anyone looking to sit down and enjoy the full, multi-course sonic feast that Andrew and Carmen so lovingly prepared in their home. So many cool flutes. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Shows: May 5 at The Stray in Grand Rapids (album-release with Brian Oberlin and Sallie Bacon); May 7 at C3 Spiritual Community in Grand Haven (10 a.m.); May 7 at Artworks in Big Rapids (3 p.m.)
What Stands Out: Grand Rapids-based guitarist Adam Main crafts a meditative listening experience, inspired by this Alan Watts quote: “If a flower had a God, it would not be a transcendental flower but a field.” This album is a follow-up to his 2021 release of solo guitar pieces, “Flying All The Way To The Ground,” but represents a big departure from that recording. Each tune centers around ambient/electronic textures and soundscapes while also featuring a new type of synth by a company called Game Changer Audio called the Motor Synth, which produces its sound through spinning drone motors built into the keyboard. This double-album features a host of tunes that even Main admits won’t be on the radio, but they offer listeners a unique listening experience that hits powerfully cathartic highs and nebulous mellow points.
Digging Deeper: In today’s music climate, consistency in an artist’s output seems almost paramount to retaining an audience, especially when it is a departure from what they’re typically known for creatively. Each tune is shaped to continually expand the listener’s tolerance, from aggressively noise-filled moments to warm, placid drones melting over your senses. With each track being named for a yoga pose as well, it encourages finding a sonic environment to live in and taking some time to really tune in to your surroundings. Even if these songs don’t find their way to the stage, the growth and experimentation shown by Main alongside some interesting music to add to his artistic catalog are both wonderful ways to celebrate this release.
Perfect For: Folks looking to fill time with space and moments with mindfulness, inviting the calm and chaos in tandem. – Dutcher Snedeker
Listen: “Warrior Four”
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