New recordings by Y-Not, Rob Jordan, Pink Sky and John Lamb also pump up this late March round-up of reviews of music by Michigan bands and solo artists. Listen to tracks from all of the releases.
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West Michigan's music scene
Spring has sprung, and we’re not talking about the weather.
Michigan’s music scene once again is blooming with new music by artists from the Great Lakes State. Today, we recap just a few of the albums and EPs being unfurled, with more to come.
Check out previous reviews of local/regional releases here.
“The Real Thing”
What Stands Out: “Michigan Songbird” May Erlewine, the much-revered and prolific folk singer-songwriter based in Traverse City, has created a touching, tender record with her latest studio release. “We wanted to give you something to hold onto, we wanted to give you the real thing,” Erlewine wrote on Instagram. As always, her voice is lovely and poignant, unaffected and all the more enticing for its simplicity. While the entire record is more than worth a listen, a few standouts include lead single “More Time,” the more upbeat “Love and Desire” and “Meet Me,” a song of soft hope that evokes the dawn.
Digging Deeper: “The Real Thing” was recorded live-capture style in collaboration with Vulfpeck member Theo Katzman, as well as bassist Joel Gottschalk, pianist Phil Cook and guitarist Packy Lundholm. It’s one of the first albums released under Katzman’s new record label, 10 Good Songs. On Instagram, Katzman described “The Real Thing” as “deep listening, deep feeling,” and termed Erlewine “as good as it gets as a songwriter and artist.” And he’s right.
Perfect For: Folk lovers searching for moments of genuine connection and quiet contemplation. – Katie Rosendale
Upcoming Show: April 15 at Franke Center for the Arts in Marshall as part of the Sweet Water Warblers (Erlewine tours the West Coast in early April, the East Coast in late April)
Listen: “More Time”
The War and Treaty
What Stands Out: It’s probably only apropos that The War and Treaty’s major label debut (Universal Music Group Nashville) would explode with country twang and rock underpinnings on the title track, announcing the re-arrival of the soulful, Michigan-bred Americana heroes who’ve long impressed critics, fans and industry types. It’s also only apropos that Grammy Award-winning producer Dave Cobb would capitalize on Michael and Tanya Trotter’s singularly electrifying weapons: their voices. As Michael Trotter puts it, Cobb “found our true vocal power. It’s all about the vocals with this record.” Actually, it’s also about Michael’s astonishing ability as a tunesmith, deftly weaving intensely personal lyrics through songs that seamlessly meld R&B, blues, country, folk, Americana, gospel, rock and pop.
Digging Deeper: While there are no filler tracks on “Lover’s Game” per se, ballads such as “Yesterday’s Burn” seem almost too purposefully designed to appeal to a country audience (and the new Nashville label), though the languid track also spotlights the duo’s exceptional harmonies. By contrast, “Dumb Luck,” “Ain’t No Harmin’ Me” and “Have You a Heart” spark the sort of musical fire that’s become the trademark of what The War & Treaty does best.
Perfect For: Turning down the lights as night falls and turning up the volume to really absorb the piercing lyrics. – John Sinkevics
Upcoming Shows: April 20 at The Stache inside The Intersection in Grand Rapids; April 21 at El Club in Detroit
Listen: “Ain’t No Harmin’ Me”
TICKET GIVEAWAY: Email email@example.com with “WAR AND TREATY” in the message field and your name will be placed in a drawing for two tickets to the April 20 show in Grand Rapids.
What Stands Out: Grand Rapids-based Earth Radio dubs its approach as “future soul,” with hints of jazz, funk and rock. The group — Hannah Laine on vocals and keys, Dutcher Snedeker on keys and synths, Justin Avdek on bass and vocals and David Ward on drums and percussion – now unfurls its fourth album, “Mosaic Dreams,” best described as sonically vibrant and consistently energetic. Highlights include the funky “Back Up,” which feels at times like it’s been drawn straight from a video game, and the unwavering “STOP. Calling Me!”
Digging Deeper: The opening track, “Space,” emerges as perhaps the album’s most dynamic track. It starts with glimmering keys and quickly grows from there, incorporating everything from ethereal scales and funky vocals to saxophone strains by West Michigan’s Caleb Elzinga. The song ends with an extended period of raucous laughter, a fitting end to a delightfully bizarre track. Upon dropping “Space” in January, Earth Radio performed it live at the Grand Rapids Public Museum’ planetarium, in collaboration with video artist Nate Eizenga, the perfect setting its dreamy mosaic strains.
Perfect For: Anyone who enjoys genre-defying music worthy of a spontaneous dance party. – Katie Rosendale
Upcoming Shows: April 20 at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor (with Sabbatical Bob); April 27 at Homegrown Sounds in Oxford, Mich.; April 28 at Midtown in Grand Rapids
Eva Under Fire
“Love, Drugs and Misery”
What Stands Out: Captained by powerhouse female vocalist Eva Marie, Detroit’s alternative metal five-piece Eva Under Fire continues to demand attention with its scorching sophomore album – the long-awaited follow-up to 2015’s debut, “Anchors,” that landed the dynamic quintet on the map as a soaring prospect rife with potential. Eva Marie’s commanding vocal assault towers above the flowing and cohesive foundation of the drums/bass medley, augmented by sustained, bending guitar chords and solos. Fusing melodically with the groovy and alluring wail of both guitarists, her rich, clarion voice is the band’s hallmark. Her broad range, mixed with the band’s strategic tempo changes, stands out. The band’s successful recipe includes subtle infusions of country, pop, rap, R&B and various metal genres – a diverse concoction that appeals to a wide audience and offers myriad options for Eva Under Fire’s style to evolve.
Digging Deeper: Some bands struggle to establish a unique, defining sound, but that’s not the case here: Excluding a well-placed cover of U2’s “With or Without You” that might nearly bowl over listeners, Eva Under Fire’s modus operandi gets unleashed within the first four tracks. So much so, that listeners may appreciate or yean for a change of rhythm and style, which the band ultimately delivers. The pace-breaking fifth track, “The Strong,” unfolds as a welcome departure from the upbeat, catchy and almost motivational collection of opening tracks, invoking a welcome shift to a slow-churning, emotional ensemble that hearkens back to a whammy-bar based, ’80s metal ballad. These intermittent departures from the band’s signature sound – notable-to-drastic tempo shifts, injecting a few bars of rap from guest artist “From Ashes to New” on the collaborative track “Coming for Blood” or simply complementing the authoritative vocal onslaught with softer and lower tones – somewhat ironically demonstrate how Eva Under Fire best chisels and reinforces its core identity.
Perfect For: Some pick-me-up inspiration after a painful break-up or rough day at work; perhaps before or during mind-resetting, sanity-maintaining activities like meditation or a workout. Also, for fans of bands like In This Moment, or any talented, female-fronted hard rock or metal. – Dallas Winston
Upcoming Shows: Saturday (April 1) at District 142 in Wyandotte
Listen: “The Strong”
John D. Lamb
What Stands Out: Detroit-based singer-songwriter John D. Lamb has done it again. With his January release of “Good Hart,” Lamb encompasses lost love, addiction, family dynamics and even the rowdy, eclectic city of Detroit in one masterful album. With honest and specific lyrics, the collection appeals to a large variety of listeners looking for a lighter perspective on heavy topics. “Good Hart” rolls out as a collage of original folk and rock songs with occasional humorous undertones and sweet melodic ballads, taking the listener on a creative journey from beginning to end.
Digging Deeper: Songs like “Spring Would Come” will tug at your heart while Lamb references tulips growing that remind him of a love complicated by time and distance. The lyrics “I had to get to the roots / It tore me up inside / Wounded our garden, flowers died,” lead the listener to contemplate relationships and growth from loss. “I Work at Wixom (But I Live in Detroit)” paints a perfect picture of downtown Detroit, and how many natives feel while living in the ‘burbs and visiting the recharging city: “I work at Wixom but I live in Detroit / Never been robbed in the hood at gunpoint / I’m a Cass Corridor Midnight Cowboy / Got a jacket just like Jon Voight.” Not shy about shredding the guitar in “This Guitar Kills,” Lamb notes the fleeting career of many rock musicians and covering basic show etiquette in the music business. With a long-standing career in the industry as a songwriter and performer, Lamb certainly has earned the right to give this advice to the “Doom scrollers and TikTok teens” in this song.
Perfect For: Road trips or a fireside Saturday night. Songs such as “Second to No One” will have you dancing in the kitchen with your partner; “You Weren’t So Bad” will provoke reflection and humility about family and past mistakes. – Meghan Wilcox
Upcoming Show: April 22 at Social Hall (Birmingham Unitarian Church) in Bloomfield Hills (Lamb also hosts the 29th annual “Lamb’s Retreat for Songwriters” at Birchwood Inn in Harbor Springs Nov. 2-12; details here.)
Listen: “This Guitar Kills”
“Rearranging The Psychic Furniture”
What Stands Out: Y-Not refuses to be confined to one genre on this LP, “Rearranging the Psychic Furniture.” The Grand Rapids-based band pulls in elements from a multitude of genres such as funk, rock, hip hop and even spoken-word poetry. Each track keeps listeners on their toes with tempo changes and complex melodies. Woven amongst impressive solos and instrumental grooves, the lyrics focus on unity and togetherness, giving the entire album a positive, uplifting vibe.
Digging Deeper: Most of the tracks include lengthy instrumental sections that drive the momentum of each song forward rather than dragging it down. Even a nine-minute track like “Come As You Are” doesn’t seem abnormally long because each section is strategically placed to create an effortless flow. While the track puts a heavy focus on the instrumental composition, the message about self-acceptance still shines through loud and clear. Each member — vocalist and guitarist Tony Geren, violist Connor Meston, drummer Matthew Perlman, guitarist Jeremiah Wenger, bassist V Garvey and saxophonist Mason Viilo — has a chance to take the lead and showcase skills throughout the album, creating a unique medley of the band’s wide range of influences.
Perfect For: Fans of energetic jam bands or anyone who has a tough time deciding on a favorite genre. – Holly Holtzclaw
Upcoming Shows: May 12 at The Stray Cafe in Grand Rapids; May 13th at Union Sreet Station in Traverse City (w/ The Marsupials)
Listen: “Come As You Are”
What Stands Out: The Grand Rapids-based Pink Sky duo of Ryan and Angelica Hay describe their music as “emotional electronica and art-rock for turbulent times” –– and indeed, “Total Devotion,” their fourth record –– drips with intensity and passion, inviting listeners on a swelling journey of love and loss. Certain songs feel almost apocalyptic, like the ominous “The Gap”: “I took you to the gap and you said I’m never coming back / I hate this place.” But the album strikes a note of hope, too, as in “False Aralia”: “Please stay,” sings Angelica Hay simply, the near-constant drone of “I am here / don’t feed the fear” in the background a comforting reassurance of presence.
Digging Deeper: “Total Devotion” and its sister album, the yet-to-be-released “Disenchantment,” were written over the past two years as “more of an outpouring than a choice,” the duo wrote on Facebook. The album also represents Pink Sky’s first foray into lyrical music: Their voices, packed with sentiment, deepen the emotional experience and complement –– not eclipse –– the instrumentals well.
Perfect For: Fans of visual and audio art alike, who appreciate experimentation and pushing the boundaries of what music can be. – Katie Rosendale
Upcoming Show: Apr. 13 at UFO Factory in Detroit
Listen: “False Aralia”
What Stands Out: Grand Rapids singer-songwriter Rob Jordan’s debut EP as a solo artist is packed with metaphors about finding hope and accepting both the good and bad in life. Inspired by impactful moments in Jordan’s life, the personal stories Jordan tells through his lyrics are complemented by indie-folk instrumentals that build with the songs while still allowing the lyrics to have the spotlight.
Digging Deeper: Whether it’s related to the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant life event, or mental health, almost anyone can relate to the title track “Strange Days,” a song about uncertainty and trying to find peace in a chaotic world. According to Jordan, these songs were written as a form of therapy for himself to understand and cope with difficult times. Ending the five-track EP with the uplifting “Grateful” serves as a “light at the end of the tunnel” moment to remind listeners that there is always good in the world if you take the time to look for it.
Perfect For: Shaking off the winter blues and reveling in spring. – Holly Holtzclaw
Listen: “Strange Days”
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