With a new record on the way, ‘Michigan Songbird’ May Erlewine plays St. Cecilia Music Center in Grand Rapids on Feb. 17. Today, she reveals that albums that have influenced her the most.
EDITOR’S NOTE: All musicians and songwriters can trace their inspiration to key recordings that captivated them and influenced their careers. Writer Ross Boissoneau today showcases recordings that changed the world for northern Michigan’s May Erlewine. Scroll down for a Spotify playlist of her picks, plus two tracks of her own.
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Dubbed “Michigan’s Songbird,” singer-songwriter May Erlewine has won accolades and enthusiastic approval from audiences around the state and country. The performance of her song “Shine On” by Sawyer Fredericks on NBC’s “The Voice” didn’t hurt.
She grew up in a musical household in Big Rapids, and connected with the socially conscious Earthwork Collective, a group of artists and musicians affiliated with Michigan’s Earthwork Farm who shared both musical and environmental similarities, and the affiliated Americana/roots label Earthwork Music. She’s released some 20 albums as a solo artist, with bands or other musicians, such as her two recordings with fellow female singer-songwriters Rachael Davis and Lindsay Lou as The Sweet Water Warblers.
Erlewine releases her new studio album, “Tiny Beautiful Things,” on May 13, and is touring the country with her band to play a select series of shows leading up to that release. She’ll perform Feb. 17 at St. Cecilia Music Center in Grand Rapids, March 4 at Bell’s Eccentric Café in Kalamazoo and March 18 at The Mendel Center at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor before heading to Los Angeles, then back to her hometown of Traverse City for a show at Dennos Museum Center April 30. (As with everything these days, the pandemic may have something to say about that: A brief recent tour with The Sweet Water Warblers was scuttled due to Omicron.)
1. Barbara Lewis, “Baby, I’m Yours” (1965) – I was lucky, I had a lot of musical influences as a kid. I grew up listening to a lot of different music. One of my favorite singers was Barbara Lewis. This was one of the first songs I remember singing along to with my authentic voice. (I also remember singing along with Aeriel from “The Little Mermaid.”) I remember my dad playing it in the car. She had a rich voice and it was deeply authentic. I was 4 or 5.
Listen: “Baby, I’m Yours”
2. Ani DiFranco, “Both Hands” from the album, “Ani DiFranco” (1990) – I started writing songs when I was 12. I was an angsty teen and was turned on to her music. It was rebellious and she was angsty herself. It was steps away from a traditional songwriter like Dylan. I fell in love with her. She was independent, discovering the world. I learned her songs. She influenced my songwriting, being courageous and vulnerable. It’s so terrifying to be vulnerable, so I think it takes tremendous courage. Some think of it as a weakness, but it’s not.
Listen: “Both Hands”
3. Stan Getz with João Gilberto, “Getz/Gilberto” (1963) – This was and is such a huge part of my musical life. Obviously, I’m not a bossa nova player, just an Irish girl from Michigan. The female singer (Astrid Gilberto) also taught me something about my voice. You could sing so softly and gently. Being fully relaxed and feeling present is as good as being loud and acrobatic. Those are such a polar opposite. The beautiful jazz puts me at peace. That’s where I was fortunate. My dad listened to a lot of music, jazz and blues. I still put it on once a week. It’s relaxed; a lot of jazz can be busy.
Currently Loving: Mereba, “Rider” from “Azeb” (2021) – I just got turned on to Mereba. It’s hip hop, easy and grooving with very exact production. It’s about all the suffering and leaning into love, leaning into our loved ones.
ALBUMS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: May Erlewine’s Playlist on Spotify
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