SIGHTS & SOUNDS for the Holidays • Review Musical Gift Guide

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, , National Music,   From Issue 888   By: Matt deHeus

20th November, 2019     0

Local Sounds 2019

By Matt DeHeus

With an eclectic batch of new releases, 2019 continued the region’s strong run as a hub for original music.   If it seemed like every week or two another strong recording was released by an artist originating from this area, it’s because it was true.  The strength of the scene is such that we are now beginning to “export” talent, as bands move or hit the road to give it a go.  We are also seeing acts from outside this area come in to execute their recording projects.  It’s a sign of strength of the local industry.

There are any number of albums that could be highlighted on this list.  Ron “Rosco” Selley took a funky pass at another album with his studio project, the F.O.R. Collective.  Area native Alex Schofield, now based out of Nashville, put out an extremely strong debut release, “Songs from the Van,” that highlights his promise as a songwriter and purveyor of a classic type of country.  Here After Six followed up their award-winning debut with a “breath of fresh metal” in “Alchemy In Motion.”  JD & the Salingers offered up the exquisite, pop-centric “Midwest Coast Revival.”  Like we said, the list is long.

Here are a few albums that made the heavy rotation with the Review crew and on playlists around the State and beyond:

With their eponymous debut EP, Kin Faux documented digitally what crowds from Michigan to Texas had been hearing in their legendary live shows.  Songs like “Teardrops On The Rocks,” “The Last Time” and “Plainview” fill dance floors and fit perfectly along the biggest hits on “Red Dirt” Country radio.  The band, which dominated the Country categories in the last couple of Review Awards, took a big step in 2019 when they relocated their base to Texas to take advantage of opportunities emanating from that market.  They are still regulars back on the Michigan music circuit and their recordings will be staples of the rotations for their local fans for years to come.

Donny Zuzula’s “Chemicals” is a folk-punk tour de force.  Chemicals might be considered a concept album, as many of its songs revolve around self-evaluation or, at least, self-inebriation.  Whether a rousing rocker like album opener, “Alive,” or the Cash-channeling “Empty and Gone,” the recording is an ode to free verse, convincing vocals, good-sounding guitars and insistent drumbeats that add to the urgency of the emotions described in the song.  Chemicals can legitimately be labeled an epic release. 

Speaking of “concept” albums, Joe Sullivan’s “Growing Up Schlockstar” is actually the second installment in the “Schlockstar” franchise.  This release has all the pillars of a power pop masterpiece.  Big guitars, vocal hooks and harmonies and a smirking sense of humor.  On the release Sullivan takes the listener through classic “coming of age” anthems, like Cheerleader, Secret Weapon and Read My Mind.  Birthday is an honest contender to become the new standard in songs to celebrate another solar lap.  If rock and roll is supposed to be fun, then Growing Up Schlockstar is rock and roll.

Americana duo Escaping Pavement made their recording debut in 2019.  “Road Warrior” is a beautifully produced effort, with pristine sound that highlights the musicality of the pair and their supporting studio cast.   Originals like White Pine and Give Me A Break and a reworked version of the Sting classic “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You” are fine platforms to display the vocal ability and musicianship of the band.  This music is simply soothing to the soul.

Coming full circle in this piece, Leland Blue released their fantastic self-titled EP in the spring of this year.   Songs like Shade, Do What You Want, and Cold Comfort are radio-ready rock.  The group, which originated in Midland, has now moved the base to the Grand Rapids area, though they have toured extensively in support of the release.  Fans from Chicago to NYC are learning first hand how much Michigan rocks.

Many of the artists above have indicated that they will have new music in 2020.  Along with anticipated releases from Amy Petty, Catfood Sandwich, JD Dominowski, and others, it should be another banner year for new Mid-Michigan music.

Current Sounds 2019   

By Jason Dean

With just a few weeks remaining in 2019, here are some of the releases that have defined the year so far. As genres continue to cross-pollinate, this year is marked by releases that range from gritty roots to ethereal dream pop and some interesting hybrids that will set the direction for music in the 2020s.

Lana Del Rey - Norman F@#ing Rockwell

From the precious opening lines of the title track, Lana Del Rey has us in the palm of her hand. Her sultry delivery and poignant lyrics, gliding above sparsely lush arrangements, takes a 1970s sensibility and invigorates with a modern consciousness. Del Rey’s vocals are intimate and smooth like satin sheets, and songs “Mariners Apartment Complex” and “Venice Bitch” possess the lyrical depth of a Suzanne Vega or Aimee Mann. More than a pop confection invention, on her sixth album, Lana Del Rey continues to impress as an artist with a compelling perspective to share.  

Brittany Howard - Jaime  

Alabama Shakes singer/guitarist Brittany Howard’s debut solo effort flows along with an earthy funk that blends the vibe of Sly & the Family Stone and Earth, Wind, & Fire with a gritty, bluesy twist. “History Repeats” is an infectious romp, and the entire album percolates with a street-wise soul that guides the listener safely through the back alley of Howard’s creative muse.

Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars

With Western Stars, his 19th album, Bruce Springsteen has created a vibrant patchwork of Americana that is right for these times. From the opening track, “Hitch Hikin’,” the Boss takes us on a colorful cross-country journey where well-crafted songs are sweeping landscapes and picturesque vistas worthy of national landmark status. On “There Goes My Miracle,” though, Springsteen goes a bit further, incorporating a vocal style that channels David Bowie, with pleasing results.

Tyler the Creator - Igor

Tyler Okonma, aka Tyler the Creator, first made his mark with the hip-hop duo Odd Future in 2010. Since then, he’s continually raised the bar, culminating with 2019’s Igor, his fifth studio album. Taking influences from soul and hip hop and running them through a techno filter, Tyler the Creator’s sound is forward-thinking and nostalgic at the same time, guiding the listener into the future with the familiar signposts of the past.

Karen O and Danger Mouse - Lux Prima

Karen O burst on the scene in the early 2000s as the lead singer of ark punk band Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Danger Mouse, who originally rose to fame with Gnarls Barkley and has gone on to produce Gorillaz, Beck, and Norah Jones among others, has established himself as one of the decade’s most innovative artists. Lux Prima is an atmospheric journey that feels like the members of Pink Floyd, Portishead, and Air got together for a mind-expanding weekend.


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