Friday Five: First Tone, Liam Charron, Verzer.ren/Thynk, DÆmons, The Strange Theory of Light and Matter

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Cover art for the albums and singles featured in the Friday Five.

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features drift music by First Tone, piano jazz from Liam Charron, minimalist techno via Verzer.ren/Thynk, and technical metal courtesy of DÆmons and The Strange Theory of Light and Matter.

 

Russell Brakefield's New Poetry Collection, “My Modest Blindness,” Reflects on His Experiences With Keratoconus

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

The cover of “My Modest Blindness” is on the left and a portrait of author Russell Brakefield is on the right.

Russell Brakefield’s new poetry collection, My Modest Blindness, is both “a telescope of loss” observing how a health condition called keratoconus robs the sense of sight and an exploration of this new state where there are “maybe a million small truths held just out of reach.” Brakefield’s poems take a “reluctant trowel” to excavate this experience and then “step into a life of shadow.” The poet sees familiar life receding and seeks “to reclaim another.”

The book contains six sections, starting with “Paper Boats” which launches the poet unwillingly down this path with keratoconus. The next two sections bear titles suggesting a clinical examination in “Pathology” and a historical approach to eye conditions in “A Brief History of Corrective Technology.” The fourth section called “Ancestors” looks backward and forward, including family, art, and references to film and other mediums. “In Between Worlds” is the penultimate section, in which the poet identifies lessons, such as humility, and in the “Coda,” begins “again      to play.” 

The poems themselves, however, remain untitled, which has the effect of immediate immersion into the poet’s dimming world. The exception to titles, though not exactly formatted like a traditional title, is in the intermittent series of one-stanza poems that consistently start with the word “Entry” and a number in the first line. “Entry #7” describes heirloom tomatoes like those pictured on the front cover: 

                                 A tag in the dirt tells 
me the varietal is Indigo Apple, though all 
year I’ve been calling them Bruises or Savory
Plums or Skyline Just Before Nightfall. 

For Real: Judy Banker Explores the Power of Emotions on New “Bona Fide” Album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Judy Banker is wearing a black shirt and black pants with a pink, orange, and black robe. She's playing a brown acoustic guitar on an outdoor stage.

Judy Banker explores the cycle of relationships and the emotions that accompany them on Bona Fide. Photo by Misty Lyn Bergeron.

Judy Banker keeps things real on Bona Fide.

The Ann Arbor singer-songwriter explores genuine feelings of heartbreak, grief, and love on her new Americana album.

“One of my litmus tests for myself with a song is: Does it ring true to me? When I think of the vignette, the experience, or the feeling of that kind of relationship dynamic, does it say what I want to say?” said Banker, who’s a University of Michigan alumna and a therapist.

“That’s what I do with my songs—if it doesn’t say it strong enough or it doesn’t capture it quite right—there’s a certain tension that I want to be able to express. I feel like every single one of those songs is like my diary.”

On Bona Fide, Banker takes listeners on a personal journey that explores the cycle of relationships and the emotions that accompany them. The album’s rich harmonies and rootsy instrumentation bring those experiences to life across 11 heartfelt tracks.

“I’m a therapist by day, and on a big-picture level, my adult life has been dedicated to trying to help people to name, understand, and get the complexity of emotions … and that it’s important to work with them and embrace that,” Banker said.

“It’s a very selfish motive in the sense that these are my expressions and my songs, and I like them, but I just hope people say, ‘Oh, I’ve had that feeling.’”

Egg Rolls and Racism: Curtis Chin's memoir recalls growing up in his family's Chinese restaurant in the Cass Corridor

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Curtis Chin and his book Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant.

Author photo courtesy of Curtis Chin.

Some lessons arrive early in life and stick with you for years. 

For author Curtis Chin, the lesson is “Work hard. Be quiet. Obey your elders.” These instructions become a mantra for Chin as he grows up in his family’s restaurant, Chung’s Cantonese Cuisine, in Detroit. The advice gets him through unfamiliar situations. 

Chin recalls his experiences in his new memoir, Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant. With humor and the kind of introspection that comes with looking back on one’s life, Chin narrates stories from his time in the restaurant and Detroit, as well as his journey to becoming a writer at the University of Michigan. In fact, he worked at Drake's Sandwich Shop as a student. Food, family ties, and Chin’s identity as a gay American-born Chinese serve as throughlines in the book. 

The politics and racism of the '80s parallel Chin’s formative years. Chung’s was in the Cass Corridor, a rough area at that time, and its clientele spanned all races and even drew Mayor Coleman Young as a diner. Chin’s father recognized the lessons to be had from talking with customers and brought his sons from the back kitchen into the dining room: “[H]e had really brought us there to discover the outside world, which was sitting right at our tables. All we had to do was listen.” 

Monday Mix: Low Pony, Merekat, MEMCO, Mercury Ulia, DJ Bayb33, DJ Sphinx, Amber Gillen, Jonathan Taylor, WCBN Local Music Show live, We're Twins Halloween comp

MUSIC MONDAY MIX

Cover art for the compilations featured in the Monday Mix.

The Monday Mix is an occasional roundup of mixes, compilations, podcasts, and more by Washtenaw County-associated artists, DJs, radio stations, and record labels.

For this edition, there's Michigan Electronic Music Collective Exposure electronica mixes by Low Pony and Merekat as well as an 11-track comp of original music by MEMCO members; Immaculate Conception Fruits of Our Labor dance mixes by Mercury Ulia, DJ Bayb33, and DJ Sphinx; an all-over-the-place Moods mix by former WCBN-FM DJ and Interdimensional Transmissions visual director Amber Gillen; a new Sounds and Silence podcast from Ann Arbor's Canterbury House featuring drummer Jonathan Taylor; a WCBN Local Music Show studio performance collection; and a resurrected Halloween comp by the We're Twins label.

 

Friday Five: Chill Place, Doogatron, Ahmad, Opius, Fred Thomas

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Cover art for the albums and singles featured in the Friday Five.

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features R&B by Chill Place, techno from Doogatron, drum 'n' bass via Ahmad and Opius, and Fred Thomas live on WCBN-FM.

Beauty and the Bard: Concordia University’s "Shakespeare in Love" is a tale of love, poetry, and laughs 

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Shakespeare in Love at Concordia University

Abby Lupescu as the quarter soprano in Shakespeare in Love. Photo by Sydney Deutsch.

Everyone knows Shakespeare's classic Romeo and Juliet. But how did that play come to fruition and what was Shakespeare’s inspiration for the tragic tale?

Concordia University's production of Shakespeare in Love, a play adapted by Lee Hall and based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, takes us back to the days when William Shakespeare was a struggling poet and bard. 

William Shakespeare (Corey Flanders) has a bad case of writer’s block. It’s even more dire that he owes two producers a script for a new show, so the pressure is on. His best friend and fellow bard, Kit Marlowe (Caleb Gross), has agreed to help him find some inspiration and has even helped edit a few of his lines. In this day and age, more people are seeing and loving shows written by Marlowe rather than Shakespeare. 

Slowly but surely Shakespeare starts building the script for his famous Romeo and Juliet. He prematurely tells the producers he’s got something in the works and they run with it, holding auditions. At this time in history, women were not allowed to act on stage and all female roles were played by men in drag.

Fables of the Deconstruction: Allison Epstein’s second novel uses Eastern European mythology to create queer historical fiction

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

A photo of Allison Epstein and the cover of her Let the Dead Bury the Dead book.

Author photo by Kate Scott Photography.

Allison Epstein says Let the Dead Bury the Dead is “my COVID novel, for sure."

She started writing it in 2019 and "most of the drafting and rewriting happened while I was in lockdown, looking for something to do.”

The book is set in 1812 in a partially reimagined St. Petersburg, Russia, where a band of revolutionaries, the Koalitsiya (loosely based on the Decembrists), plot against the tsar, while the tsar’s second son decides whether or not to join them.

The Chicago-based Epstein, who earned her Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the University of Michigan, also wrote historical fiction in her first novel, A Tip for the Hangman, based on the 16th-century life of playwright and alleged spy Christopher Marlowe.

Epstein says the inspiration for Let the Dead Bury the Dead came from another book set in the same period and country.

Inside Out: Kylee Phillips Gets Vulnerable and Introspective on New “Long Time Coming” EP

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Kylee Phillips sits down while wearing all black and has a green light shining on her.

Kylee Phillips shares a spectrum of emotions on Long Time Coming. Photo by Kris Herrmann.

Kylee Phillips deliberately steps outside herself and looks inward on Long Time Coming.

The indie-pop singer-songwriter and keyboardist examines past vulnerabilities and realizations through a wiser lens on her new EP.

“It’s very autobiographical. Honestly, writing them was less about sharing them with other people and more about admitting things to myself,” said Phillips, who lives in Ypsilanti.

“In the writing process, I struggle sometimes to be vulnerable or to process my own feelings in real life. I joke that sometimes you could ask me how I feel about a situation and I would say, ‘I don’t know,’ and then I would write a song and go, ‘I guess that’s how I feel about it.’”

On Long Time Coming, Phillips shares a spectrum of emotions—ranging from disappointment to anticipation to relief—across five introspective tracks. The EP’s cathartic lyrics and atmospheric pop instrumentation allow listeners to instantly grasp and connect with Phillips’ perspective.

“A lot of these songs were things that I was describing, especially ‘Long Time Coming,’ and are like the closets in your house where you put stuff and you’re like, ‘I’m not going to think about it; I’m going to pretend that all that crap has been in there,’” Phillips said. “Then at a certain point, you say, ‘I’m gonna have to look in that closet.’”

Bold Conversations: Theatre Nova's "What the Constitution Means to Me" explores big issues on a small stage

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

What the Constitution Means to Me. Photo by Heidi Schreck.

Emily Wilson-Tobin and Skye Solea debate What the Constitution Means to Me at Theatre Nova. Photo by Heidi Schreck.

New York Times theater critic Jesse Green hailed Heidi Schreck’s play What the Constitution Means to Me as “not just the best play on Broadway, but also the most important.” 

Here was a theater piece that grappled with real issues while also being funny and intimate. The playwright played herself, offering her story as a template for long-simmering grievance.

Schreck’s play was not the usual Broadway fare. The set was simple, the approach was friendly and beguiling—and then, quietly, outraged. Schreck used her own story to explore what the U.S. Constitution got right, where it failed, and its impact on the lives of everyone.

The play opened on Broadway in 2018, in the wake of the Me Too movement that put a bright spotlight on male privilege, violence, and smug disregard for half of the human race. 

Yes, the play is about the Constitution but its real subject is a dawning feminism and how that hallowed document has helped and hindered the freedom of women and minorities over the last 235 years.  

Theatre Nova is the perfect venue for Schreck’s play. It’s a small theater in the heart of a great university town, a place where arguments about the Constitution really matter. Nova is presenting What the Constitution Means to Me through November 9.