Michigan’s leading folk-singer activist this week mounts a Michigan tour behind her powerful and political new album. The Local Spins interview and album review, plus Erlewine’s video for ‘Whole Again.’
SCROLL DOWN FOR ALBUM REVIEW, NEW “WHOLE AGAIN” VIDEO
Support our coverage of
West Michigan's music scene
Beautiful and powerful words carrying messages of positive change are nothing new for Traverse City-based singer-songwriter May Erlewine.
But with her latest release, “Second Sight,” Erlewine uses her healing art to address the recent difficulties and conflicts that have divided the country in recent years.
“A lot of where this came from was just dealing with the sort of grief and loss that I felt with the presidential election … and the regression of what felt like progress,” Erlewine said.
“At least in my lifetime, it felt like as a whole we were working toward a future that had a more inclusive, progressive sensibility.”
But after Donald Trump was elected and took office, Erlewine said it felt like the country was moving backwards.
“I felt completely devastated by it,” she said. “It took a long time to really know how to engage with those feelings, and to know what to put out there. I went through a few months of a sort of depression, as far as being engaged with what’s going on in the rest of the world, and this country.”
She found a way to emerge from that depression through her art and her songs.
Some of the changes impacted her on such a personal level, Erlewine decided to write a letter to the president. It eventually turned into one of the most powerful songs on her new album, “That’s My Home.”
“That was sort of the beginning of deciding that I didn’t want to be silent during this time,” Erlewine said.
“So, trying to find a respectful way of navigating what was happening – while also trying to open people’s hearts, and not isolate people. It’s been a really interesting journey. It feels like what I am being called to do as an artist.”
Erlewine also has released a video for the track “Whole Again,” first written as a poem while watching the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. The song, she said, “is about the pain of women’s history. It’s about the fact that we have continued to repair and make whole what has been broken so many times, all while continuing to suffer abuses and silencing, without truly equal rights in our own country.”
VIDEO: May Erlewine, “Whole Again”
While some songs are more directly related to political and societal concerns than others, Erlewine said she worked to tie all the songs in “Second Sight” together with the same message. The hope is that it will all help people re-engage with what is happening, find a new way of relating to what this country’s history is, and formulate a vision for the future.
“It’s still worth it … to try,” she said.
“And I know a lot of my friends, who have been sort of my pillars as activists – relentlessly not giving up, not wavering – have really struggled to feel connected, and to want to continue.”
It has been a long process for Erlewine to release “Second Sight.” In fact, Erlewine said she had to make the album three times before settling on the finished product which was self-produced and recorded with Tyler Duncan at the Barber Shop in Ann Arbor – aided by a host of top-notch musicians.
“It took a lot of reconnecting with what it needed to be: listening and trusting, despite obstacles,” Erlewine said.
“I wanted it to be a piece about these times, and for these times. That became more and more the message. It felt like that’s what I was being asked of this project.”
CONNECTING THROUGH A SERIES OF MICHIGAN ALBUM-RELEASE SHOWS
Even the cover art and the name of the album, “Second Sight” have deep meanings to Erlewine.
“The title came from just realizing there is a need to connect to our inner wisdom, and our inner knowing – a deeper intuition, in a spiritual way, of where we’re at, and what needs to happen moving forward,” she said.
“I feel that in order for us to make a change in the world that we want, we really need to ground in, and connect deeply to ourselves, and trust our intuition (and) not be sheep, herded by these distractions.”
She’s promoting the new album in a series of release shows this week across Michigan, starting Thursday at 20 Front Street in Lake Orion, Friday at The Ark in Ann Arbor, Saturday at Bell’s Brewery Eccentric Café in Kalamazoo ($20 available online here) and Sunday at Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids ($20 available online here).
Other Michigan shows include Oct. 12 at The Livery in Benton Harbor ($14-$20 available online here) and Oct. 13 at Seven Steps Up in Spring Lake ($25-$35 available online here).
Billed as a way of “moving forward through very turbulent times,” Erlewine will be accompanied at these album-release shows by a band of Michigan all-star musicians: Phil Barry, Eric Kuhn, Joe Hettinga, Max Lockwood, Michael Shimmin, Faith Quashie and Julia Moffa.
As with her previous album, “Mother Lion,” the new recording benefited from a successful Kickstarter funding campaign fueled by her fans.
“It’s just so humbling,” she said. “I feel completely lifted up by the community, and by the people that support my music. I will always make music, and I will always be an artist. But the reason I continue to make my living doing this … is because of people who support and believe in the work, and tell me that it’s a useful art form to them. I am constantly amazed at the power of music and by the power of community.”
She added: “That’s why I want to do it: to be of service and to do something that is valuable. It takes so much time and effort … to create a record like this. So having people that believe in it and who want to support it is crucial. It means so much.”
THE LOCAL SPINS ALBUM REVIEW
What Stands Out: The tranquil and delicate opening tracks to “Second Sight,” belie the power, passion and political fire that simmer throughout the latest collection from Michigan’s much-beloved songbird, who also describes herself as a “folk-singer activist” in promotional materials for her album tour. That’s not to say that May Erlewine has ever shied away from social commentary before. It’s just that “Second Sight” is specifically designed to buoy those who’ve felt particularly distressed and disenfranchised by the Trump Administration and events that have divided the country in recent years. And make no mistake: The poignant, pointed lyrics rank among the best and most heartfelt in Erlewine’s long and illustrious career, paired with artfully arranged, infectious, pop-tinged, piano-driven melodies – from what could be the most potent tune she’s ever penned, “That’s My Home,” to the new feminist anthem, “Whole Again,” to the uplifting, gospel-shaded “Afraid” that closes it all out.
Digging Deeper: Masterfully recorded by Tyler Duncan in Ann Arbor and self-produced by Erlewine, there’s no shortage of haunting tracks that will forever get planted in the memory cells and leave fans humming and singing to themselves. (“That’s my heart you’re setting on fire, that’s my home you’re burning, that’s my future, dancing on the wire, on fire.”) Sure, at times, it seems the subject matter deserves a wall of rock ‘n’ roll guitars and thundering drums to match the intensity of the lyrics. But the brilliance of Erlewine may be that she can make her point with a luminous voice and arresting lyrics without beating you over the head.
Perfect For: Inspiring change in this troubled word, and for fans of Patty Griffin, Highwomen, Kacey Musgraves. – John Sinkevics
Michigan Dates: Second Sight Album-Release Tour
Oct. 3 – 20 Front Street, Lake Orion
Oct. 4 – The Ark, Ann Arbor
Oct. 5 – Bell’s Brewery Eccentric Cafe, Kalamazoo
Oct. 6 – Wealthy Theatre, Grand Rapids
Oct. 10 – The Old Art Building, Leland
Oct. 11 – Ten-Pound Fiddle Concerts at CMS, East Lansing
Oct. 12 – The Livery, Benton Harbor
Oct. 13 – Seven Steps Up, Spring Lake
Copyright 2019, Spins on Music LLC