This May roundup of new releases by Michigan artists also features a look at recordings by Signal Quartet, The JR Band and Wowza in Kalamazoo.
As summertime concerts and festivals start making a splash across the state, Local Spins takes a gander at several new releases by Michigan artists from jazz to country to rock and beyond.
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Several of these artists are performing across the region and elsewhere in coming weeks, and readers can check out their schedules while listening to tracks from each release.
Revisit previous Local Spins album reviews online here.
What Stands Out: Legendary Michigan organist Jim Alfredson returns with a brand new release, his first as a bandleader on Posi-Tone Records, called “Family Business” – and what a family affair it is. A stellar sextet is featured across nine new compositions, centering around Alfredson’s mastery of the Hammond organ, with the expert musicianship of Will Bernard on guitar, EJ Strickland on drums, Diego Rivera on tenor sax, Alex Sipiagin on trumpet and Michael Dease on trombone. Percussion on certain tracks comes courtesy of guest collaborator Kevin “Bujo” Jones of Grand Rapids. This album was crafted apart and tracked live at Acoustic Recording in Brooklyn, N.Y., resulting in a dynamic listening experience that meshes together elements of jazz, blues, funk and soulful musicianship to craft what Alfredson describes as “a swinging good time that people of all ages can dig into over and over again.”
Digging Deeper: Longtime fans of the Lansing keyboard guru understand that with each new group he participates in or project that he crafts, listeners are treated to one of the most celebrated players on Hammond organ. Whether he’s on stage with Larry McCray, Echoes of Pink Floyd, Organissimo or crafting sounds and repairing gear in his home studio, a beautiful product is on its way into the world. “Family Business” is a celebration of Alfredson’s mastery of his craft nestled inside a tight group of masters in their own right, and the result is a record that feels good throughout and is guaranteed to lift your spirits.
Perfect For: Folks wanting jazz they can take home to the folks and geek out about with the cousins; you’ll want to share it with people who bring you joy. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Show: (With Larry McCray) June 8 at Chicago Blues Festival in Chicago’s Millennium Park
Listen: “The Side Eye”
What Stands Out: Every time Grand Rapids singer and multi-instrumentalist Max Lockwood takes the stage, audiences are treated to a gem of a human and songwriter, and with the release of “Diamonds,” only the purest cuts made the list. Recorded primarily at Joe Hettinga’s new recording studio, this album features nine new tunes that harness folk, pop and classic rock sensibilities within an electrifying modern rock environment, all the while using every lyric to communicate the depths of his human spirit. Plus, the band used for these studio recordings features the likes of Sam Cooper on backing vocals, Daine Hammerle and Michael Shimmin on drums, Joe Hettinga on keys, and Drew Howard on various pedal steel, electric, and acoustic guitars, adding to a plethoras of Michigan talent to really deliver a knockout punch from track to track.
Digging Deeper: Audiences around the region know Lockwood from The Insiders (his polished Tom Petty tribute experience) and his work in May Erlewine’s various groups, and these projects all help to hone his talents as a performer and writer while helping to fuel the stories told on each tune he writes. For years, Lockwood has cemented why he is a go-to for some of Michigan’s finest songwriters and artists that seek an honest, grounded individual with a passion for sharing stories. “Diamonds” shines brightly, and instantly brings levity and clarity to a chaotic world, so treat yourself to an uplifting experience.
Perfect For: Passionate music fans needing a burst of dopamine and a reminder of our shared experiences as humans. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Shows: Wednesday (May 24) at The Robin Theatre in Lansing; Thursday (May 25) at 20 Front Street in Lake Orion; June 9 at The Alluvion in Traverse City; June 15 at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo
Listen: “When We Crossed That Bridge”
The Bootstrap Boys
“Hungry & Sober”
What Stands Out: The Bootstrap Boys have delivered a heartfelt, tried-and-true bluegrass and country rock album with “Hungry & Sober.” This Grand Rapids-based group takes another step forward with a half-hour of true Michigan rootsiness and bluegrass for the listener, recorded with renowned producer David Percefull outside Austin, Texas. The album shows traces of various classic and country rock artists as well as bluegrass and country icons such as Willie Nelson and Billy Strings.
Digging Deeper: For this album, the band delivers a strong collection of songs filled with stories of love, simple living and more. Songs like “You Got That Right” reflect the musings of oneself while celebrating individuality and a simple life. Other tracks, including “Carhartt Cowboy,” share stories about love, relationships and doing your very best. The album, from start to finish, shows The Bootstrap Boys delivering their very best work on songs that are sure to be heard this summer.
Perfect For: Fans of Michigan-bred country, summer days at your favorite music festival or sipping whiskey. – Sean Miller
Upcoming Shows: Saturday (May 27) on Grand Lady Riverboat, Georgetown Township; June 3 at Ethanology in Elk Rapids; June 9 at The Mill in Vicksburg
Listen: “You Got That Right”
Wowza In Kalamazoo
“Milo on a Bike”
What Stands Out: Wowza In Kalamazoo, which started as a remote recording collaboration between Ike Turner and Zach Hench, morphed into a full post-punk group creating music unlike anything ever heard before. The band, who you might guess is from Kalamazoo, released its three-track EP in April, featuring Mark Walters on drums, Franki Hand and Ike Turner on guitar, and Chafe Hensley on bass. Two other artists joined for this trip, adding a fun twist to their sound, with Beth McDonald on tuba, and Tim Mydyett on guitar and trumpet. If you think that’s an interesting combination of instruments, another key player in the band makes this mix even more fascinating: Brad Miller plays the cactus on the third song of the album, “Cactus Improvisation #1.”
Digging Deeper: Within the first few minutes of the album, it’s clear that this is not a typical listening experience. The album continued its experimental push throughout. Listeners often cling to lyricism when trying to relate to new music, but this album somehow creates a plethora of feelings without uttering a single word. “Milo on a Bike,” a 13-minute-long journey, is a song that reminds us that there are no rules. The whole song is abstract and bizarre, starting with a fun, strong rhythm going into the summertime vibe. As the song progresses, the sense of stability lifts, and the rest of the song feels like a powerful, eerie, floating entity. Less thought-provoking but just as abstract, “Hans Vollman,” the second track on this album, unfurls with a psychedelic, calming energy. Downright eccentric, the final song, “Cactus Improvisation #1,” never quite hits the traditional elements of musicality, but does create a captivating play on sounds. These experimental pieces help push creativity in music to the next level.
Perfect For: Stepping away from the office to philosophize about life. – Destiny Patrolia
Listen: “Milo on a Bike”
The JR Band
What Stands Out: Unsurprisingly, the “heart” of The JR Band’s debut LP, “Heart Street,” lies in the title track. The country-folk duo consists of songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Randy Juhl and John Patrick who have been jamming and playing with local musicians in the Bay City area for over 15 years. The track focuses on the idea of finding an escape from life through music and showing appreciation for those who have supported them throughout their journey as musicians. Juhl and Patrick are accompanied by musicians Bob Rostollan, Kelly Sible, Mike Thomas and Rusty Beyer.
Digging Deeper: While the album remains consistent in terms of genre with elements of country, bluegrass and folk, the individual tracks capture a range of different emotions. Juhl puts it this way: “Every song on Heart Street was inspired with a back story including people, places, emotion and personal experience.” Tracks that reminisce on specific memories from the songwriter’s life, such as “Seventeen,” or tell a story using specific details to paint a vivid image (“Rich Man”) stand out on this release. However, some tracks — “Sail On” and “Ride That Train” – fall into lyrical tropes and commonly used metaphors that lack the heartfelt touch that other tracks accomplish so well. The JR Band duo can be found playing both covers and original songs in Bay City and the surrounding areas throughout the summer.
Perfect For: Easy listening that anyone can appreciate and enjoy on a summer road trip. – Holly Holtzclaw
Upcoming Shows: Friday (May 26) at Bay Port Inn in Bay Port; June 3 at Saginaw Bay Yacht Club in Essexville
Listen: “Heart Street”
“Second Exploration: The Music of Ben Wolkins”
What Stands Out: Following up itsr 2022 self-titled debut, Signal Quartet returns with a collection of new compositions. For the uninitiated, this Detroit-based group thrives on challenging each musician to write and explore the range of sound as a collective while expressing individuality through each other’s writing. The result on this sophomore release is a beautiful tapestry of styles and influences across the jazz canon, distilled into a sound all their own, with moments of burning swing, colorful dissonant melodies reminiscent of Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet or Thelonious Monk, and lush textures that soak your listening ears into a hypnotic calm.
Digging Deeper: As Tim Hagan wrote in the group’s liner notes (which you can also read on their Bandcamp page), “the diverse palette of grooves, moods and sonic environments on this recording emphasizes his [trumpeter Ben Wolkins] imagination as a composer.” So many moments on this record ebb and flow around the ever-expanding jazz vocabulary expected of the modern jazz master, but Signal Quartet – Wolkins, drummer Sean Perlmutter, guitarist Ian Blunden and bassist Eric Nachtrab – effortlessly strides together into the unknown for a truly enjoyable listen.
Perfect For: Modern jazz fans looking to delight in a Midwest group whose sound reaches into the past to pave the roads they explore in the present. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Shows: July 16 at Michigan Jazz Festival at Schoolcraft College in Livonia; July 20 at Toledo Botanical Garden in Toledo
Listen: “The Worker Bee”
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