This mid-January round-up of Michigan albums also features Local Spins takes on a special re-release from Overdrive Orchestra along with an ‘esoteric’ collection from Kalamazoo’s Handturner.
As we plunge into 2024, Local Spins continues to spotlight releases from late 2023 as well as fresh albums by Michigan artists.
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More of this is on tap as winter rolls ahead, so keep coming back to Local Spins for its takes on new local and regional recordings.
And if you’ve missed any recent reviews, check them out here.
What Stands Out: Like another West Michigan-bred bluegrass dynamo, Billy Strings, who’s gone on to worldwide stardom, Full Cord seems to be following a similar trajectory to fan-inspiring glory, though on a more traditional trajectory when it comes to their musical approach. The award-winning band – based in Grand Haven – has electrified audiences from northern Michigan to Colorado and the East Coast, and its latest studio album, “Cambium,” reinforces the upbeat, good-time flavor that weaves through most of their music. Propelled by mandolinist and singer Brian Oberlin, “Cambium” roars out of the gate with the lickety-split attack of “Ghost of Good Times” and unfurls entertaining tale after tale sure to titillate bluegrass fans young and old.
Digging Deeper: Gems abound on “Cambium,” including the delightful “I Laugh When I Think How I Cried Over You” and perky “Sallie’s Dancing.” In particular, fiddler Grant Flick’s musicianship has added a dynamic sheen to the work of Oberlin, guitarist Eric Langejans and bassist Todd Kirchner on this debut album on Nashville’s Dark Shadow Recordings – a collection that even features a fun bluegrass cover of Steely Dan’s classic “Reelin’ in the Years.” It’s an unusual cover choice, but it’s pure Full Cord frolic.
Perfect For: Anyone intoxicated by the joyful romp of bluegrass music, not to mention instrumental acuity. – John Sinkevics
Upcoming Shows: Feb. 14 at Rockford Brewing in Rockford; Feb. 24 at The Clover Room in Kalamazoo; March 16 in Traverse City (TBA)
Listen: “Sallie’s Dancing”
DJ Blaze 589
“Alpha King 3 Riding Music”
What Stands Out: DJ Blaze 589 is a prime example of an artist who works tirelessly at his craft. On his latest album, fans are treated to a host of guest artists flowing over a solid foundation of beats, samples and stylized tracks that explore a range of styles and topics within hip hop. Whether it’s a soulful love song, a beat flipped from classic samples, a gritty backdrop to an emcee effortless telling their hard life, or just a celebration of the culture overall, DJ Blaze 589 provides a great selection of tunes that feel at home blasted from a cruising car’s speakers or soaking a night club in a distinct vibe.
Digging Deeper: With each release, DJ Blaze 589 shows the care he puts into an album listening experience beyond a host of talented features. His expertise as a live performer helps organize this album so well: tracks flow together like a live DJ set with live narration and moments of “heating and cooling” to give listeners some levity to contrast the heavier moments. All of this is accented with catchy hooks and stellar, well-produced instrumentals. Hip hop fans of all generations will find something to enjoy, whether you’re nostalgic for the textures and references pulled from the past or delight in hearing the latest from the Grand Rapids hip hop community.
Perfect For: Riding around town and pulling up to the spot, riding a vibe as you feel the 808s hit those subs. – Dutcher Snedeker
Listen: “Never Gonna Let You Go (Go Hip Hop)”
The Hired Hands Band
What Stands Out: Recorded at La Luna Recording & Sound in Kalamazoo, The Hired Hands Band compiles several original songs from the past decade for the first time in “Hardly Workin’.” The album is a steady mix of blues and jazz. The acoustic ensemble from the Kalamazoo area displays a confidence that can only be heard in a band that has played together for many years. Piano and harmonica dance with call-and-response harmonies on the uptempo tracks on this album. A nice reprieve hits with “Pleasure and Pain,” which features play between strong piano and bluegrass strings, and soulfully sung lyrics such as, “One man’s pleasure, is another man’s pain.”
Digging Deeper: Overall, “Hardly Workin’” is reliable. The HHB make enjoyable music, and the enjoyment comes from its accessibility. The album does not pretend to be anything it is not. The way the songs are packaged and presented to the listener seem exactly that: packaged blues, jazz and bluegrass. The lyrics run heavy with cliche, and the lived experiences of the band members don’t necessarily shine through. This is not easy music to play, and it’s clear there are years of training and experience behind them, so let’s hope The Hired Hands Band breaks more rules the next time around.
Perfect For: Someone who wants to dip their toes into blues, but not jump in. – Casey Grooten
Listen: “Pleasure and Pain”
“Works and Shoots”
What Stands Out: Fans of the Kalamazoo rock scene will recognize the combined efforts of Franki Hand (Wowza, Kalamazoo Drone Society, Petrillo, Isaac Is Out) and Isaac Turner (also Wowza and Kalamazoo Drone Society) in their joint project Handturner, a project they describe as focused “more acutely on soundtrack and interstitial music.” With their latest release, listeners can expect swirling textures, interjecting guitar and bass work, moody dronescapes tempered with time, and free, expressive guitar, bass and drum work playing surrounded by all kinds of electronic stimuli, effects pedals and synthesizers. Patience rewards listeners on this gritty, cinematic offering.
Digging Deeper: John Coltrane describes interstitial music as “starting in the middle of a musical sentence and then moving in both directions at once,” and Handturner does this beautifully with how they arrange around a noise density. Cacophonous collisions of electronic and acoustic motifs are opened up to ethereal moments of calm, showcasing a range of intuitive talents for sculpting with sound. This album is an experience, one that benefits from opening one’s palette to new flavors and delighting in the mystery of how some of these moments were put together. Listen to this album with an open mind and know you will leave different than when you first hit play.
Perfect For: Esoteric, expressive rock music lovers that also delight in sonic exploration. – Dutcher Snedeker
Listen: “Hey Killer”
“The Holy Ghost EP”
What Stands Out: Punk fury. Melodic hardcore hooks. Dynamic shifts with explosive guitar riffs and drum savagery. The Muskegon- and Grand Rapids-based Snakeout certainly wastes no time in establishing its brain-rattling, grab-you-by-throat approach on the band’s latest release from Lansing’s Setterwind Records. As they put it in apropos fashion on “Leaky Pipes”: ‘Cut ’em loose, cut the crew loose, cut ’em loose, I got a screw loose, I don’t care.’
Digging Deeper: The band brings in special guest Chantal Roeske for the reworked track “Rot,” adding a psychedelic and fetching vibe to the song’s interlude. And in keeping with classic punk tradition, band members are true believers in brevity and conciseness, with their songs coming in at 2 minutes, 19 seconds or less.
Perfect For: True punk disciples. – John Sinkevics
Upcoming Shows: Feb. 10 at Hagar’s Hideaway in Muskegon (for Heart on Your Sleeve Fest with If He Dies He Dies, Them Teeth, Tonguecutter)
“Heading East (Deluxe)”
What Stands Out: Grand Rapids’ Overdrive Orchestra describes itself as progedelic (a mix of progressive and psychedelic rock), and in the newly released deluxe version of the band’s 2013 album, “Heading East,” the band fully commits to its symphonic arrangements and pace in the first half, just as easily as it breaks away from it in the second. The leading track, “Proditus Aman,” builds a contemplative structure that the rest of the album can stand on, but also flip on its head as the album reaches its middle point. The third song, “Downstream,” marries the first and second half of the album, just before the final two songs break completely away from their “The Doors”-esque beginning.
Digging Deeper: After listening a second and third time, the specific change in style halfway through “Heading East,” the deluxe version of Overdrive Orchestra’s second album seems purposeful. This album sounded like an experiment in getting from beginning to end. However, it is hard to miss the extreme commitment that persists through the album. From building a landscape while storms brew on the horizon, to up-kicking the tempo and melodies, this album leaves the listener certain of the band’s love for music.
Perfect For: Next time you have a long nighttime drive ahead of you, put the first three tracks of this album onto your playlist. Or, grab a pair of good headphones and listen to the whole album, spotting the differences between the original masters and the deluxe version rewraps and throwbacks. – Casey Grooten
Upcoming Shows: April 19 and 20 at Kewadin Casino, Sault Ste. Marie
Listen: “Heading East (Alternate Mix)”
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