The Year in Music * 2012

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, National Music,   From Issue 761   By: Robert E Martin

20th December, 2012     0

2012 was the year words and music collided into a cacophony of sounds and impressions cultivated from the past that attempted to embrace and give perspective to the future. It was a year when everybody seemed on edge, divided politically in a presidential election year with Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z rallying behind President Barack Obama while Kid Rock lifted the Confederate Flag for Mitt Romney; and ending with a remarkable show of star-power and unity in the unprecedented 12/12/12 concert at Madison Square Garden for the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy.
Of course, the wild card that still hangs out there as I write this is hinged to the Mayan prediction about the 'End of the World' on December 21st, date of the Galactic Solstice, where the earth reaches an extreme point of approximately 26,000 years when the open magnetic field lines at the north pole of the earth will be pointing towards the sun, receiving a peak amount of solar particles. Whether this will cause a reversal of the earth's polarity remains to be seen; but I guess we'll all know if we wake up on December 21st sleeping on the ceiling or not. When it comes to music, culture, and politics - this is not necessarily a bad thing; as obviously each of these arenas could use a bit of fresh perspective as we move into 2013.
Having said this, here is a breakdown on what I feel are some of the musical highlights regionally and nationally for 2013:
Dave Kellan & Gutbucket * Guitarist, songwriter & vocalist extraordinaire Dave Kellan rejoined forces with drummer Brett Mitchell and bassist Jake Krull to release a new CD of powerhouse fusion riding the borderlines of rock & blues. By keeping it simple with sophisticated notions, Kellan's guitar rang with the fury of ancient sound like Robert Johnson at the Crossroads; and they synergy of this band was propulsive & breathtaking. In addition to securing Best Original CD of the year at the 26th Review Music Awards Ceremony in April, Kellan and each of the band members received numerous honors.  In short - a remarkably cohesive achievement in an inordinately fragmented year.
Michael Brush & Brush Street * In his retirement the creative juice of keyboardist, songwriter, and vocalist Mike Brush is flourishing at full-steam. Apart from journeying back into the studio with vocalist Julie Mulady, guitarist Matt Corrigan, drummer Jordan Edwards, and bassist Ryan Fitzgerald, Brush put on a landmark performance at Bay City's State Theatre earlier in the year, reworking musical gems in his original catalog for full orchestra, adding violins, cellos, saxophones, trombones and trumpets to this sound; and signifying a pivotal new musical direction as an arranger.  Book-ending the year with a series of holiday concerts consisting of a similar orchestral line-up, Brush has proven he's in a professional league with such luminaries as Burt Bacharach and Henry Mancini.  Additionally, Brush released a new book of his lyrics entitled Words that is available on
Speaking of books & musical artists, Saginaw's legendary guitarist/songwriter Dick Wagner clocked high on the best-seller list this year with his memoir Not Only Women Bleed, which covered his early beginnings and memories with The Bossmen and The Frost, and led into his high-flying days with Alice Cooper, Lou Reed and Aerosmith.
And Wagner wasn't alone.  Neil Young, Pete Townsend and Rod Stewart all weighted in with autobiographies and memoirs this year, proving that when rock stars start to push into their late 60's, obviously chronicling and making sense of their legacy becomes a top priority.  While I've only read excerpts from Townsend's and Stewart's bios, Neil Young's 'Waging Heavy Peace' is one of the most intimate and revelatory reflections and meditations on the creative process and the price of success that I've yet to absorb.   While most rock biographies all follow a similar story-line:  young artist gets signed, manager rips him off, drugs & decadence litter the landscape, followed by recovery and rehab; Neil's spare time is spent much differently. 
Apart from surviving polio as a child, and driving to stratospheric success with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby Stills & Nash, not to mention his own solo career and work with Crazy Horse, in his spare time Young concentrates on developing LinkVolt - a new type of 'Green' environmentally friendly way to run classic cars; and invests heavily in the development of 'PureTone' - a revolutionary way to present digital MP3 downloads so that 95% of the music isn't lost in translation.
Indeed, it's Young's theory (and a sound one) that one of the reasons music doesn't carry the same weight with younger generations as it once did is because with MP3-s and digital downloads, you only get 5 % of the sound that is recorded through analog.  PureTone is one road to opening the full power, fury, and impact of recorded sound - for that alone, Young is to be commended.
And as if this guy isn't prolific enough, he also managed to release two great new CD's in 2012: the electrified translation of old cowboy/campfire songs, Americana; and the jam-laden thunder of Psychedelic Pill with his old cohorts Crazy Horse.
Glen Thomas Rideout is an award-winning conductor and baritone and once again led the Saginaw Choral Society into impressive new creative directions in 2012.  A native of Baltimore, he holds a Bachelor's Degree in Voice from Vanderbilt University and a Master's degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree. 
Rideout's passion for music and the capacity it possesses for drawing seemingly disparate people and groups together stems from the fact that he views music as truly a 'universal language' - a notion that he developed during childhood; and has tested numerous times since with people from different cultures, persuasions, and backgrounds.  Developing the 2012-13 Choral Society series around a thematic motif that matches music with colors, his talent for creatively advancing choral music is decidedly impressive.
Equally gifted musical director Brett Mitchell also piloted the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra into new dimensions in 2012, assembling programs and works that showcased and melded the classics with the creative originality of younger classical composers surfacing throughout Michigan.  In the process, he managed to set attendance records for the SBSO and is to be truly commended for his achievements.
And while we're on the topic of local legends & musical excellence, the musical collective of Tammy, Tim & Andrew Grefe, Stephan Gaus, and Carter Roberts performed what they claim  will be their last concert fund-raiser in 2012, going out in style with an incredible series of performances entitled Running On Empty that nailed the vocal complexity and musical textures of groups like America, The Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, and Santana to letter-tight perfection.
Shifting to the Midland area, Timothy Boychuck re-convened the musicians from The Timothy Hyde Project to present a 10th Anniversary performance of his epic-rock opera Heal  - a creative achievement that has set a standard in local songwriting. Thematically, Heal functions as a compilation of 15-songs that explore the various human conditions of Fear, Rage, Abuse, Sadness, Hope and Salvation from the ostensibly incongruous perspective of a canine animal. 
Similar to the way the Broadway classic Cats succeeds - by looking at diametrically opposed dualities of the human condition such as grace and greed, cruelty and kindness that is embedded within the human condition from a dog's perspective, Boychuck managed to hold a mirror up to the self-centered nature of humanity in general to allow us insight into ways we can grow to become positive forces upon the canvas of a world that often seems bleak.
Also deserving a huge shout out are the people that pull the Matrix:Midland Festival together. This year they showcased two of the finest live concert performances of the year by bringing Grammy Award winner Bonnie Raitt to the stage in May, along with young jazz dynamo Esperanza Spaulding.   Touring behind the recent release of her 19th album, Slipstream, Raitt was in fine spirits and polished form as the unmistakable timber of her lush and pristine vocal range wrapped emotive clarity around each syllable that she sang, while those nimble fingers traveled over the fret-board of her guitar, proving to the sold-out crowd that Raitt's signature slide-guitar playing is distinctly singular and unmistakably occupies a class all it's own.  Indeed, as opening act Marc Cohn noted, “Bonnie is such a class act that it's easy to forget what a badass she is.”
“If it's not broke, don't fix it,” stated William Koepke, event coordinator for the annual Saginaw On Stage Music Festival, which also turned out to be a musical high-water mark in the Great Lakes Bay region for 2012.  Since its inception 9 years ago, SOS has evolved into a pivotal fundraising event for the Saginaw Rotary Club, raising over $120,000 for local charities and organizations, while serving as a broad showcase to feature over 30 musical groups & artists that define the canvas of musical talent populating the Great Lakes Bay region.
As for the silver screen, Detroit-born Tony D'Annunzio awakened a sleeping beast with the release of his incredible documentary on the legendary musical scene created at the Grande Ballroom back in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Shown at the Hells Half Mile Film Festival in Bay City this fall, the film Louder Than Love is an epic chronicle of a time when Michigan was giving birth to the White Panther Party, women's liberation, and the Grande served as the scaffolding for groups like the MC5, The Stooges and Grand Funk Railroad to explore new forms of industrial music and free speech. Forget such truffles as Almost Famous - this film is the 'real deal' - a portrait of a time of change when freedom of expression took on a brand new hue and cry and Rock Music as an art from ascended on par with the classical masters.
On other fronts, the 26th Review Music Awards honored the area's best, brightest and most talented in late April of this year.  Top winners voted by the public at large consisted of Best New Artist Killer Kong, Hip Hop-artists M-20 and Alphabetics, Best Original & Alternative Band, The Banana Convention; Most Innovative artist & Best Rock Songwriter Andy Reed; Dave Kellan & Gutbucket securing a majority of the Blues honors; Steve Armstrong & 25 Cent Beer Band nailing the Best Country Band category, with long-standing stalwarts Burnaround honored as Best Rock & Metal Band.
Also deserving praise for top-notch musical events in 2012 are Ben Cohen for pulling together the 5th Annual Free Music Fest in Freeland; as well as the folks at PRIDE for keeping downtown Saginaw alive with their annual Friday Night Live summer musical series.
And finally, closing things out in the embrace of musical releases that were committed to posterity, here's a short list of what I feel were the best new original CD releases of 2012:
* City of Smooth Jazz - The Robert Lee Revue.  Ex-Question Mark & the Mysterian guitarist Bobby Balderama and company have created a musical masterpiece that takes the fluidity of George Benson and the tonal sting of Carlos Santana and wraps it in an entirely unique and distinguishable package of sound.  Decidedly not be missing from your collection.
* Autumnal Equinox - Equinox. The Celtic musical combination of talent presented by Jean Marie Learman, Katherine Morris, Vern Pococke and Company resulted in a spirited and authentic amalgamation of the traditional and the contemporary, with songs like Are You Sleeping, Maggie? taking the familiar elements of Celtic Folk music and opening them up into lush musical tapestries sounding like they could have been created on an acid-tinged desert by The Doors.
* Garbage * Not Your Kind of People. The first Garbage album since 2005 brought everything that made this group unique to the forefront: Shirley Manson's tough shimmering vamped-up voice, solid yet sleek beats; and drummer-producer Butch Vig running all of it through waves of majestic distortion.
* Bob Dylan * Tempest.  Dylan's 35th album encompasses all we love about this artist. Difficult to approach initially, the work grows upon the listener, gaining deeper meaning and nuance as each layer of the onion is pulled away.  Teeming with wit and history and soaked in centuries of folk and pop music, it's difficult to peg a period or a time-frame on this music. In short, the songs are timeless - especially the ironic poetics of the Titanic disaster into an ode for our currently beleaguered ship of state.


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