The Powerful & Seductive Musical Prowess of AMY PETTY

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, Artist Feature,   From Issue 891   By: Matt deHeus

30th January, 2020     0

It seems that the most appropriate way to start this article is to tell you about the two first times I heard Amy Petty sing.  If that sounds a little odd initially, let me explain.

The 1st first time I heard Amy sing was at the Mitten Music Revival held at the Bay City Masonic Temple in 2018.  I was playing bass with JD Dominowski at the time and was in the “Green Room” chatting with Karen Robertson about her sons and their band, Leland Blue.

Suddenly, in came her husband, singer / songwriter Michael Robertson, and he said to her “You’ve got to come out here, she’s singing.”

As I recall, Karen continued talking to me and Mike repeated that she needed to come “now”, or she was going to miss it and at that point she did go.  Since I’d never actually seen Mike get excited about anything before,  I followed out into the main room to see what was up.

“She” turned out to be Amy Petty, who I had heard about, but had yet to meet.  And, holy cow, could she sing.   She’d played a set upstairs in one of the smaller rooms and the organizers decided to bring her down and have her do a few songs in a set change on the main stage.  Just her and her guitar. Killing it.

This the Amy I began to get to know and who began to immediately carve out her own space within the original music community in this area.

Which brings us to the second “first time” I heard Amy Petty sing. 

Like many solo, songwriter types in this area, she found her way to the studios of Reed Recording Company.  I’d heard Amy was working on a project and, having seen her so many times do her “girl with a guitar” thing, I assumed that’s what she was putting on tape.

And then one day Andy Reed sent me a link to her upcoming album, “The Darkness of Birds.”  Despite my previous experiences with her work and performances, I realized right away that I had finally heard her sing these songs the way they were meant to be.  

This “murder” of ballads and laments scaled up amazingly.  It was huge and hypnotic; a completely new experience from the acoustic versions.   It was truly a second first time hearing this material and I felt like I now had a full understanding of the artist and what it was she was trying to do. 

It’s pretty rare to get that feeling and I don’t think I am the only one who is experiencing this when hearing the album, which is why I took the time to tell you that part of the story.

Amy Petty is a native of Royal Oak, Michigan.  She grew up in an era when the city and its neighbor, Ferndale, went through a transformation from the remnants of a working-class past into the artsy, trendy communities that were often referred to around the region as Rockin’ Royal Oak and Fashionable Ferndale. 

As Petty puts it, “I feel so fortunate to have grown up in the place I did.  I needed people to tell me ‘you need to do this’ and I was surrounded by support in Royal Oak.  I am not sure I’d be where I am if I grew up in a less artsy town.”

One thing worth clarifying: “This” at the time was Opera.  Petty started out as a classically trained singer, earning a degree from Oakland University and she moved to Philadelphia with the intention to pursue a Master’s Degree.

 It took an unexpected epiphany early in this program to switch streams.

“What I realized is that I didn’t love Opera the way Opera loves Opera,” said Petty, “I looked around the room and I realized most of the people in it would probably kill me for a role.  There are things I might kill for, but Opera isn’t one of them.”

She’d been given a guitar a few years before and had begun the process of teaching herself.  After a relocation to Boston, she began to explore the open mic scene around the area. “I had these songs I ‘thought’ I might be able to write, so I decided to give it a try.”

Turns out people liked what they heard and started offering up advice, which might be equal parts helpful and confusing.  “One day a guy told me I needed to get my songs up on MySpace, to which I replied, ‘Great.  What is MySpace?’”

Well, she figured it out and began posting some self-recorded tracks, which caught the attention of the management of Red Pill Entertainment, a record label based in St Louis, Missouri.  This turned into a relationship that spanned 12 years and three albums.

The story took another turn when Petty’s husband Billy, an accomplished musician in his own right, suggested the family move to Saginaw so he could accept the role of Worship Pastor at Hopevale Church.   

Whatever initial reticence Petty might have had in the move quickly dissipated when she learned of the quality of the music scene in this area.  While it is no secret to the regular readers of the Review, the level of talent, the resources and the level of comradery is often unexpected to those uninitiated in our tradition.  It’s fair to say Petty fit right in.

When you hear “The Darkness Of Birds” you will understand why we were so quick to accept her and make her one of our own.

Aside from its stellar production, the cohesiveness of the material and the quality of the vocal and instrumental performances, the best thing Amy has going for her on this album is that people will understand what to do with it and where it fits in the market.  In the real world of the music business, this is a good thing.

As I said to Petty early in our interview, I could feel immediate touchstones.  Tori.  Sarah.  Fiona.  Kate.  To this ear, power players from the canon of women in adult contemporary music have nothing on the work that Petty has produced with “The Darkness Of Birds.” 

It’s a style that coalesced during the Lilith Fair era, with female performers imbuing their work with raw emotion and introspection as a direct replacement for the bravado and posturing that is so common when “boys” make rock and roll.

From openers “The Dreams That Are Waiting For Us” and “Murder Ballad (The Innocent Cry)” through the haunting “The Day The Devil Died,” Petty offers up a set of songs that, despite staying true the tone of the album’s title, often prove uplifting and inspiring. 

Said Petty on the subject, “We are taught that beautiful things are good and we are supposed to like them.  But I often find there is a certain beauty in darkness.  You miss out on so much if you ignore this.”

Songs like “Undertow” and “Pull” indeed explore dark themes.  They draw you into their intimacy through arrangements that are equal parts airy and dense, with chord voicings allow for ambiguity in the listener’s interpretation of the song, and careful application of vocal dynamics that make you listen and then make a point.

Oh, and “Sick Of the Radio” is what a hit song sounds like.  Period. 

While this is Petty’s fourth release, this is her first as an independent artist.  The difference is noticeable as she approaches this release as a full-time job.

“Sometimes I feel like I am moving a sandhill with tweezers.”

All of the work finally came to fruition with the release of the album on January 24 and with a release show at Trinity House in Livonia the next day.  Petty will have a second release concert in Bay City at the State Theater on February 29, as well as tour dates scheduled across the Midwest and on the East Coast.

Tickets to the State Theater show can be purchased at http://statetheatrebaycity.com/Events/view/320.

You can find out more about Amy Petty, her performance schedule and purchase her music at www.amypettymusic.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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