Local Spins’ mid-summer edition of “Albums that Changed the World” focuses on recordings that shaped producer and multi-instrumentalist Michael Crittenden, whose band plays Grand Rapids Friday.
EDITOR’S NOTE: All musicians can trace their inspiration to key recordings that influenced their careers. Writer Ross Boissoneau today showcases music that changed the world for producer and Troll for Trout frontman Michael Crittenden. Scroll down for a Spotify playlist of his picks, along with two tracks from Troll for Trout’s new studio album.
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Producer. Engineer. Guitarist. Keyboardist. Vocalist. Bandleader.
Michael “Colonel” Crittenden’s resume includes working with familiar names such as Pop Evil, Ralston Bowles, Drew Nelson, Larry McCray, The Accidentals and others.
His commercial credits include work for Camping World, Mercantile Bank, Amtrak, St. Cecilia Music Center and Little River Casino. But it’s likely that most music fans recognize him as founding member and chief songwriter of the folksy band Troll for Trout, which just released its first album of original material in 13 years.
“I grew up in Grand Rapids in the ’70s and was obsessed with Elton John,” Crittenden says. He took up piano, then turned to six-string in his early teens. “I had to learn how to play guitar in junior high. It was the cool thing to do.” F
Fast forward a few years, and he went to college to become respectable and get a business degree. “That didn’t work. I dropped out then went to Berklee.” Not only did he study at the famed music college, he formed a band though it “didn’t quite get there with the labels.”
So it was back to the beginning. “I missed Michigan, fly fishing and camping. My family was here, so I moved back.” He sought the company of like-minded individuals for his new musical endeavor. “I was going to start Troll for Trout. That’s what I wanted to do and I did it.”
After steady touring and recording for 10 years, he took the band off the road and began setting up a studio, first in his home, then in a building on the west side of Grand Rapids. Today Mackinaw Harvest is a thriving studio, where Crittenden serves as in-house producer, engineer, and musician.
“I never intended to be a producer, but that’s what happened. Everything is better in a studio,” said Crittenden, who also works in a smaller home studio where he now lives in Traverse City.
He still fronts the band, which released its latest recording, “North Downriver Road,” in May. While the band doesn’t tour, he anticipates a few live dates, as well as the occasional solo show with friends and fellow songwriters. Troll for Trout plays its next show at 7:30 p.m. Friday (July 21) at Chicago Beef Joint, 822 Ottawa Ave. NW. Tickets, $25, available online here.
1. Elton John, “Madman Across the Water” (1971) – The first one has gotta be “Madman.” That started before junior high. It got under my skin. I only had the single “Tiny Dancer.” The flip side was “Razor Face.” My first-grade friend had older brothers, and one had a stereo system in his bedroom and records we weren’t supposed to touch. I heard “Tiny Dancer” and thought, ‘Wow, that’s what I want to do. It would be great to sound like that.’
Listen: “Tiny Dancer”
2. James Taylor, “Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon” (1971) – Again, it’s from around the same time, though I didn’t start listening to it until later. His voice was always so easy to listen to. He was the first guy that got me listening to lyrics. I’d been writing little ditties on piano but not songs. I wrote my first song at 14 or 15 and I remember trying to sound like James Taylor. I’d been playing guitar a couple years by then, but I didn’t understand finger-picking. I didn’t take lessons but I hung out with a lot of guitar players. He was a big influence on me. He sang songs from the perspective of somebody else. “Millworker” is a single mom working in a factory, but you believe him when he’s singing it.
Listen: “You’ve Got a Friend”
3. Prefab Sprout, “Steve McQueen” (1985) – Not well-known, but one of my favorites. The mood of it just got under my skin. Paddy McAloon (wrote) chord changes, not cowboy music, informed by jazz but not really jazz. That’s what charged me up about that band. They were doing stuff I’d not heard. It was clean and refreshing at a time when things were really getting loud in pop rock. I get accused of being the guy that likes smooth (music), and it’s true. Sprout was interesting lyrically, more poetic, yet some songs are so raw: ‘I’ve got six things on my mind, you are not one of them.’
Listen: “Desire As”
Currently Loving: The 1975, “Notes on a Conditional Form” (2020) – I’ve been spinning a lot of vinyl lately. My favorite right now is a band called The 1975. There’s a lot of 80s influences – that’s probably why I like it, I grew up with it. “Notes” has been on my turntable a lot. Again, the songwriting. The production is interesting too. You can tell they’re into that, they’re painting in the studio, creating textures. They build drumbeats our of non-traditional things, samples. Big thick synthesizers. Auto tune – they use it not for a crutch but as an effect, the way they use it is creative.
Listen: “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)”
ALBUMS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: Michael Crittenden’s Playlist on Spotify
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