With Joe Hertler and crew unveiling a new album today and kicking off a U.S. tour, Local Spins reviews the collection, plus releases from other notable Michigan bands. Listen to samples of the new music.
Support our coverage of
West Michigan's music scene
Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers
With the clanking of a piano and freight train-styled sound effects, Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers’ new album pulls out of the station with the pop- and dance-fueled flurry of “Lonely” – a near-perfect representation of what The Rainbow Seekers represent in 2017, a track filled with horns, searing guitars and what Hertler describes as a “weird, nebulous” mix of pop, rock and funk. With its very title, “Lonely” also represents a collection that’s certainly darker lyrically than 2015’s “Terra Incognita” yet joyous and celebratory at the same time.
More than anything, the mid-Michigan band comes off on “Pluto” as an ensemble that’s more comfortable in its own skin, with atmospheric and moody sonic backdrops enhanced by melodic, insanely catchy hooks and Hertler’s soothing-yet-playful vocals. Tracks like “Crimson Line” and “Show and Tell” boast an almost-EDM-styled vibe, deftly balancing electronic elements with intoxicating and mysterious pop wizardry, while “Disconnected” meshes Wilco-like rock-fueled verses with lilting Tears for Fears-tinged choruses. If “Terra Incognita” was Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers’ coming-out party, then “Pluto” represents the band’s more confident second wave of soulful pop – the work of a bunch of guys who seem more than ready to conquer the solar system. – John Sinkevics
(Editor’s Note: Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers not only celebrate their new CD at Michigan shows this weekend, but launch a two-month U.S tour that crisscrosses the nation through May. The band also plays two straight weekends at Electric Forest in late June.)
Upcoming shows: 9 p.m. Friday at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor; 8 p.m. Saturday at 20 Monroe Live in Grand Rapids (with The Legal Immigrants, Less Is More); June 25 and 30 at Electric Forest in Rothbury
The Verve Pipe
Rock history is littered with examples of bands that create some of their most rousing, most thoughtful music long after their immense popularity has waned. It’s not that The Verve Pipe didn’t strike a nerve and create something nostalgically enduring with singles such as “The Freshmen” and other crowd-pleasing material from the ’90s, it’s just that frontman Brian Vander Ark and other current members of the Grand Rapids band (guitarist Lou Musa, keyboardist Randy Sly, bassist Joel Ferguson, drummer Sam Briggs, vocalist Channing Lee) have lived so much more of life and seem to have so much more to say these days. It’s not just the lyrical power of “If I Could Make You Feel” and “The Favorite Son” on the band’s newest studio outing, “Parachute,” but the nearly flawless delivery, arrangements and production of this New Millennium take on alt-rock. “If I Could Make You Feel” in particular is a poignant epic with mature themes, filled with dynamic, prog-rock-enhanced swells and breathtaking vocals. Meanwhile, The Beatle-sque “The Fine Line” oozes the sort of clever writing and harmonies that must have inspired all manner of fun and experimentation in the studio. (The album was recorded by Joel Ferguson at Grand Rapids’ Planet Sunday Studios and produced by Vander Ark, with mastering by Al McAvoy.)
If harder rocking fans might miss the sheer rock ‘n’ roll muscle of previous TVP efforts, others will appreciate the tender power of a ballad like “Love Isn’t Love” which closes “Parachute” with a message that Vander Ark and his cohorts probably couldn’t have written 20 years ago: “Love is still love even when you’re weighed down by it.” – John Sinkevics
Listen/Watch: “If I Could Make You Feel”
“Followers” had a tough act to follow, namely the self-titled Afro Zuma release that won the 2014 Jammie Award for album of the year. But the 14-member(!) Afro-beat ensemble from Grand Rapids happily meets the challenge on its latest release, a six-track EP that nearly manages to match the exhilaration of seeing the group perform live. Recorded consummate wizardry at Third Coast Recording Company in Grand Haven (mixing couldn’t have been easy), “Followers” is an irresistible paella of sound, with arrangements that allow each of vocalists, horn players, percussionists and string players to pollinate the music with a different far-flung influence.
Vocalists Tim Bober and Jen Wilson trade songs, usually appearing after three or four minutes of sinewy beats, bright horns and compelling guitar/bass interplay have lulled listeners into an enveloping groove. Wall of sound? More like a garden. – Troy Reimink
Upcoming Shows: June 9-11 at Nor-East’r Music & Art Festival, Mio
Listen: “How Much?”
“B3tles: A Soulful Tribute to the Fab Four”
Organissimo’s Beatles tribute is fun, feisty and a reminder of the talent of the Fab Four with a jazz-organ twist. Jim Alfredson on organ and keyboards, guitarist Lawrence Barris and drummer Randy Marsh pay tribute while still keeping the music fresh. The punny-titled “B3tles” opens with “Taxman” from “Revolver,” which inspired the CD’s cover art, with the trio playing the familiar melody before Alfredson does some fancy improvising. On “Dig A Pony,” Alfredson really lets loose, coaxing long lines out of the organ that relate to the melody, eventually giving way to Barris’s delicate guitar. “Can’t Buy Me Love” may be the album’s highlight, not only for its zesty treatment, but for the way this threesome works as a unit: The song kicks off with organ swells and a brief martial beat before Alfredson and Marsh break into an irresistible shuffle-swing. Barris’s guitar chords on the beat provide the perfect backdrop. Suddenly, Barris and Alfredson switch places, with the guitar now improvising and skipping along over the steady organ and drums. Then, they flip roles again, before returning to the familiar melody.
Marsh’s drumming could be an instructional manual on accompaniment, he’s so steady and never intrusive. On “The Long and Winding Road” he gets the chance to step out front, though not on drums: His harmonica break takes over the last minute of the tune and the fadeout. “If I Fell” focuses on Barris’ guitar, as does “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” appropriately enough. The former is sweet and melodic, the latter somber and reflective. The Beatles were famed for experimenting with Indian music and Organissimo concludes “B3tles” in similar style on “Within You Without You” – George Harrison’s sonic adventure from “Sgt. Pepper” – boasting Marsh’s shimmering cymbals and exotic percussion from guests Bill Vits and Mike List. – Ross Boissoneau
Jack and the Bear
“By the Book: Folklore of Jack and the Bear”
An ambitious overture of dark folk music spanning a whopping 20 tracks, Jack and the Bear’s “By the Book” is anything but by the book.
Filled with seething vocals, grandiose horns and weeping auxiliary instrumentation (violin, melodica, accordion), each track offers an intriguing perspective of the Southeast Michigan band’s take on the genre of folk. “The Deal” stumbles around like a drunken gypsy with its wobbly horns and frontman Brandon Schreiber’s wandering vocals. Though a shorter track, “Swarm,” packs a punch with pounding drums and blasting horns laying the background while group vocals accentuate a storied main melody line. In an epic finale, a gargling muted trumpet solo draws the curtain on the burning track. Beginning with an airy whistle that gives way to tastefully distorted and fuzzy vocals, “Off the Track” proves another standout with its strong sense of melodically prowess.
A theatrical foray, this Jack and the Bear LP plays like the score to a Tim Burton film, brushed with cobwebs and exuding a standing-on-a-creaky-floor-under-a-full moon kind of feel. It offers no shortage of whimsical spookiness and ominous beauty. – Ricky Olmos
Upcoming Shows: 9:30 p.m. Thursday (April 6) at Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids (with Olivia Mainville & The Aquatic Troupe, Delilah DeWylde); June 9-11 at Nor-East’r Music & Art Festival, Mio
Listen: “By The Book”
Check out Local Spins reviews of other Michigan album releases online here.
Copyright 2017, Spins on Music LLC