Editor’s Note: To recap the ebbs, flows, and highpoints of our regional & local music scene throughout the past year, Review contributors Bo White, Trish Lewis, and publisher/editor Robert Martin each contributed their thoughts & perspectives to this following assessment. We hope you enjoy.
Music is the Food of the Soul
By Bo White & Robert E. Martin
It’s been a helluva of a year. Everything is topsy-turvy, from the sacred to the serious, and when surveying the cultural landscape of 2015 it seems the driving force has centered around a broadening battle between artistic integrity and economic viability in the drive to fill concert seats.
But at least this year The Dow Event Center introduced The Red Room into the mix – part of an admirable effort to expand the venue beyond arena football, hockey pucks, and the occasional live concert performances featuring major national artists that have not been gobbled up by the Big Bucks that larger venues such as Soaring Eagle Casino have throw to them in a bidding war. Consequently, many of us are stuck in the mire, kissing the donkey’s ass too often and bowing gratefully for another Rick Springfield Concert or a chance to hear the Flamin’ Groovies sing Shake Some Action.
With homegrown regional Michigan artists, however, it’s been a fairly encouraging year. Sprout & the Orange became Sprout again and the Banana Convention put away their home movies. Deadman Serenade was on again and off again as they continued to hone their unique brand of country ‘prison’ rock. Andrew Kitzman is working his way up the charts with a brand new record, while Kyle Mayer is playing it straight and putting Thick as Thieves back together for an end of year hootenanny.
Carl Os’ and Melissa May continued to light the torch for freedom and homemade music with Black Flower Blossom, while Melissa (who also secured Best Female Rock Vocalist honors at the 2015 Review Music Awards, closed out the year forming an inspiring acoustic duo with guitarist/singer/songwriter Brian Coonan, that shimmers with strong new original compositions penned by May and forged a bright beacon on the musical horizon.
Review Magazine published Our Greatest Band Series that featured The Flies, The Burdons, My Dog Bob, and Mick Furlo, with others on the way. And in the world of Jazz, Bobby Balderama continues to turn heads with original smooth jazz that is simply beautiful and gaining national attention, with two of his songs making the Top-10 on the international jazz charts. Meanwhile, Bryan Rombalski continues to earn kudos for his musicianship, phrasing and overall mastery.
Local artists with much to deliver that tend to fly under the radar of popular regional appreciation are Bob Wall, because he does not mince words or sucker punch you. He likes to walk into a room like he’s leaving... just in case. Another is Anthony Retka who once went by Tone & Niche. Emily Rose (Niche) played violin and looked great. Anthony was Tone. He has a supple tenor that recalls Paul McCartney in 1965 when he sang Yesterday on Sullivan just to let us see that rock & roll could be pretty and meaningful.
Donny Brown went solo with a little help from his friends, releasing his impressive Hess Street EP and performing at The Red Room, The Review 29th Music Awards Ceremon, and Saginaw On Stage. Donny also closed out 2015 with a breathtaking performance at Bay City’s State Theatre in December along with cohorts Andy Reed and Chris Zehnder, who staged a triple-play CD Release Party entitled Written in the Mitten. Apart from the fact that each of these distinct talents also share matching musical sensibilities, each of their EP releases populate a unique voice on the upper ends of the musical register. And in many ways, Written in the Mitten served as an example of how rewarding the performing arts can be when you raise the bar high. Watching them collectively onstage was not unlike the experience audiences must have had the first time they saw Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young perform: regardless of the power of each of their individual talents, collectively they push the material to an entirely new plateau that can truly be called rock ' n roll heaven. Thanks, guys, for closing out 2015 with such a highpoint of musical achievement - you managed to raise the bar way up there and scaled it!
Speaking of visionary talents, jazz trumpeter, songwriter & vocalist Bria Skonberg returned to The State Theatre this fall for a return engagement and one month later was featured in Vanity Fair as one of the up-and-coming generation of Jazz artists under the age of 30.
Kenny Stahl also hit the big time as did our friend Astray with urban beats and great lyrics. The remnants of Maybe August continued to keep the pulse on Halle Berry and her contribution to their ongoing legacy. They even brought Paul Mudpuppy in for some good vibes, though they had to drive past the Saginaw River to get him safely ensconced on the other side.
This year the 29th Annual Review Music Awards received over 5,000 votes & nominations from the general public; and was held in a gala celebration at the Genevieve Ballroom at Lumber Barons in Bay City. Dirt Fest was selected best musical festival, the unstoppable Burnaround best metal band, while Chris Redburn reached creative & popular highpoints with his innovative musical hybrid of hip-hop & rock entitled Rock Hop. Sprout & the Orange secured best alternative band honors, long-time favorites Jedi Mind Trip were selected best rock band, while Mandi Layne & the Lost Highway nailed the Best Country and Best Original band categories, with the Jim Pagel Jazz Trio hitting the note as Best Small Jazz Combo.
And as far as living legends go, Johnny Krogman remains one of our most treasured performers of all time. He cares, maybe too much …but he’s always himself. As Bo puts it: “He’s my favorite curmudgeon with a Heart of Gold.”
Despite the missteps of club owners and the talent they purchase, there is still plenty of great music in the Great Lakes Bay Region of Michigan. The music scene didn’t die, it just got a bit tired in 2015. Artists come and go, promise a little and give a little. It’s not over yet.
Stay tuned…In our end is our beginning
Made In Michigan Music From 2015
The Review’s Trish Lewis is one of the only voices in local radio that regularly features the new creations of regional musicians on her weekly internet podcast The Eclectic Chair, which you can find on her podcast at http://radiochair.com.
Here’s her list of the best releases of 2015 that rose to the top to peak our interest, warm our hearts, and inspire our collective soul.
1. Andy Reed “Relay Vol. 1” Five Song EP 2015 Reed Recording Company CD or MP3 Bay City, Michigan’s King of Smooth Pop delivers yet another five songs that leave us wanting only more. Vol. 2 should be released in 2016 with an LP available then as well. For now, this stocking stuffer of warm music will have to hold us over. http://reedrecordingcompany.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/Andy-Reed-Recording-Artist-Producer-680888355377136/
2. Joel Boyea “Here Again, And Lost” Eight Song Album 2015 Futureman Records CD or MP3 Joel Boyea has young clear voice that carry through his mature themes of love, loss and learning to cope on this eight song disc. The delayed gratification getting his music back out for eager ears wasn’t wasted. This is pop with a master’s degree. https://futuremanrecords.bandcamp.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/joel.boyea.9
3. Mike Tesch “Mike Tesch” 12 Song Album 2015 Self-Release CD or MP3 Another stellar Reed Recording Company Production taken to new heights with this introspective songwriter who seems to bring voice to a darker side of pop. https://www.reverbnation.com/miketesch9 or https://www.facebook.com/miketeschmusic/
4. Eric Johnson “It Can’t Get Any Better” 2015 Self-Release produced out of Maple Hill Studio in Midland, Michigan. This collection of songs brings psycho-rock back to the party. No free beer required! https://www.facebook.com/MapleHillStudio/ or https://www.facebook.com/eric.johnson.1069020 or http://www.ericjmusic.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/eric.johnson.1069020
5. Laurie Middlebrook “It’s My Pleasure” 2015 Self-Released CD or MP3 Co-Produced by Laurie Middlebrook and Andy Reed. This remains on my own personal heavy rotation. This collection of eleven songs is her most eclectic to date full of heartfelt humor and sugar with no saccharine. https://www.facebook.com/TheLaurieMiddlebrookBand or https://www.reverbnation.com/lauriemiddlebrook
6. Saginaw, Michigan band The Crushtones (Dan Palmer Vocals/Guitar, Keith Weber - Guitar/Vocals, Mark Gerard Jarema - Bass/Vocals & Paul Hildebrant – Drums) offer their self-titled disc The Crushtones a 2015 self-release on their label called Small Motif Records. These guys have tapped into some special rock and roll vibes. Dan Palmer is the lyricist and they all write and arrange the music created on this eleven song album.
Pop rock with a twist of garage punk brings us their opening song “Hold On” and we are hooked; “Take a little trip/To a magic place/On a rocket ship/Into outer space…” In “This Always Happens To Me” their now middle-aged angst is familiar to many who attempt to relive the past; “People are laughing, but they don’t know why/They think they’re so funny, they think they’re so sly/They’re having a grand time, they’re getting so high/They don’t know what’s happening, and neither do I”.
“I Don’t Know Why” offers that tip of the mind “I’m waking with an empty feeling/Something that I’m always dealing/With something that won’t escape me/And something that won’t evade me/I’m walking with an empty feeling/Something that I’m always dealing/With something that won’t escape me…” even when the guitar solos seem reason enough to wake up.
I especially like their instrumentals “Crushtone Theme” & “Crushtone Theme (reprise)” that reminds me of 1960s film background. Wonder what their movie would look like? I believe heavy equipment might be involved in the making.
“Why Do You Lie?” reminds us that no matter how bad things are, lying only makes it worse; “Why, oh why do you lie? / I can’t believe a word you say/All you do is deny/Why do you lie?” and “I make a new score/Walked through an old door/It’s hard to be more/Irritated with you…” But the listener knows it’s possible. This album offers a simultaneously upbeat downtrodden bunch of pop rock ready to enjoy.
Produced by Dan Palmer, engineered by Dan Palmer and Paul Hildebrant. Mixed and mastered by Andy Reed at Reed Recording Company.
Find The Crushtones on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/crushtonessaginaw
On SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/thecrushtones
7) Laura Rain and the Caesars are acclaimed Motor City Soul and R&B dynamos that I am happy to hear have self-released their third album named “Gold” that proves they are indeed all that glitters. All twelve songs on this Cd were written by Laura Rain and George Friend who is her superb guitarist and producer who often perform as a duo.
Rain is a classically trained soprano who has found her forté in modern day funk mixed with soulful rhythm and blues. The album is backed by some of Detroit’s finest players recorded live in analog on a vintage 16-track tape machine in a huge room in Pontiac. Six months of stealing time between gigs, the duo has truly mastered their songwriting in a retro style. Rain’s vocals harken to Motown and Stax Records meeting up with Muscle Shoals.
Laura Rain and the Caesars website: http://www.laurarain.net/