Mid-Michigan songwriters certainly are a prolific bunch. The last several months have seen some of the area’s most active artists release new material, with several repeat offenders showing upon multiple recordings. As the publication of record for this region’s original music scene, its been hard to keep up. As you begin thinking about Spring Cleaning, we’d like to suggest some excellent tunes as a soundtrack for your season.
We lead this piece with the new album by noted folk singer Jen Cass and her new band, The Lucky Nows. Consisting of Cass, husband Eric Janetsky, multi-instrumentalist Jon Potrykus, guitarist Michael Robertson, mandolinist Daniel Patrick and Ron “Rosco” Selley on harmonica, the Lucky Nows have been playing live shows for a little over a year. Included in this itinerary have been appearances at festivals, such as the Nor Eastr, and eclectic stages like the Ark in Ann Arbor. In fact, the band has a return engagement at the Ark on May 31.
“Rise” contains 11 original tracks, with Cass carrying the lead vocal on most tracks. The production on the album is stunning, as the instruments shimmer in arrangements that have an elegance to the interplay within the largely acoustic ensemble.
Cass is a consummate story teller, a fact supported once again by several superb additions to her catalog, like “Against the Black,” “Cannonball Girl” and “Rise.” It is a very satisfying effort, one that should certain appeal to long term fans of Cass or those who might already enjoy mainstream artists like Amanda Shire, Patty Griffin or Allison Krauss.
Michael Robertson is one of the “repeat offenders,” as he appears not only on the Lucky Nows release, but on his own new EP, “Moon Over Michigan.” The follow up to Robertson’s solo debut “All My Stories,” is another stellar effort. The title track, co-written with Cass, is another of his canon of story songs, every bit as wistful and haunting as longtime MFR favorite, “The Highway Song.” With songs like “Let It Burn” and “Better Angels,” Robertson channels the unique form of spirituality that his brings to his own lyrics. The highlight of the disc, though, may be a cover song. Sons Ben and Connor join the elder Robertson on a cover of Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son.” It’s OK if you find you must dry your eye before they are done.
For fans of Sins in Stereo or those present as he famously held court for open jam sessions at the Empire Room, it is no secret that Ben Nolan is one of the most versatile talents in the area. Whether it is singing, playing guitar or saxophone, Nolan brings a dynamic energy to his performances. A succinct review of a disc that includes such sultry and slick songs as “Coffee Black, Whiskey Dry” and “The Tone” might be “play that funky music, white boy!” Nolan sings and performs with such soul; the whole package is a joy to listen to. Whether up-tempo or when he slows it down, Nolan is one of the most unique pop artists performing in this area today.
If you like your grooves heavy and your rock hard, Hedge Row’s eponymous CD is a good place to mine. The group has built a solid reputation as an energetic live act, honing their original music on stages across the Tri-Cities. Vocalist / guitarist Andrew Prime and guitarist Jaron Jock join bassist Austin Willette and drummer Steven Schnettler in a sampling of songs that draw from the rich well of classic rock sounds. Fans of bands as diverse as Kings X, The Cult, Zeppelin, Deep Purple or Alice In Chains. Stand outs like album opener “The Road” and bluesy rocker “Sh*t Don’t Float” will leave the local rock fan with a very satisfied feeling and an urge to search out the next Hedge Row gig.
Schnettler becomes our second “repeat offend,” as a member of ethereal duo Winaschnitzel with sister Shannon Schnettler. In this project Steven plays multiple instruments, including guitar, bass and drums while sharing vocals behind lead vocalist Shannon. The stripped down and airy arrangements were produced at the Schnettler’s home studio. Tracks like “Lies,” “Lights Out” and “The Way You Feel” will find appeal with fans of acts like the Cranberries, Alanis Morrissette and Natalie Merchant. Winaschnitzel will be a featured performer at the 2018 Review Awards.
Guitarist Jim Pagel has long been a fixture on the Mid-Michigan music scene, my recently with his award-winning group, the Jim Pagel Jazz Trio. Far removed from his roots as a rock guitar speed merchant, Pagel is not he area’s leading practitioner of the Gypsy Jazz style of guitar first made popular by Django Reinhardt. On his debut release, Pagel throws a slight twist into the mix as it is a truly solo recording. Pagel handles all instrumental duties on the album, playing lead, rhythm and bass guitars on ten excellent renditions of Gypsy Jazz Standards like “All Of Me,” “Coquette” and “Billet Doux.” It is an excellent example of the genre and the disc will prove a real joy to those who follow Pagel in his live trio.
Staying with the jazz genre, the Scott Tuttle Quartet literally takes a nostalgic swing with an album of jazz standards. Supported by his former band teacher David Reed on drums, Troy Kiel on piano and Steve Rodriguez on bass, clarinetist Tuttle takes a spirited run through classics like “All Blues,” “Mood Indigo” and “Sweet Georgia Brown.” Said Tuttle of the song selections “"As a jazz musician, I want to do the best I can to help to introduce a new audience to jazz/swing music and help to bring back the old classics played by Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington"
“Place” finds Bay City’s “Mr. Happy,” Jeff Yantz at his most introspective. The five tracks hone the familiar territory that Yantz has created as a purveyor of fine roots-based music, often delivered with a wry touch that would make Randy Newman or Warren Zevon proud. From opener rollicking “Love Letters” to the spoken word samplings of “Place,” the EP is a good time. The melodies, performances and production all shine on a consistent set of feel good tunes.
Saginaw post-punk outfit Audrey Burne completes our Spring summary with their EP Knifepoint, available on CD, digital download and limited released colored vinyl. The group’s sound will draw comparisons to acts from the era of the Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees. The swirling guitar riffs, throbbing bass tones and wailing, otherworldly vocals are all here. The band has attracted much attention with this release, garnering downloads and media attention from France, the Ukraine and other markets where modern, indie rock are valued.
All of these releases are available on the usual channels – Amazon, Spotify, Bandcamp and the like. The best way, as always, is to pick them up in person at a gig. And then take them on a road trip for a test. It is Spring, after all.
16th November, 2023
7th November, 2023