Jimmy Webb brings a lifetime of songs and stories to The Ark

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jimmy Webb photo by Rockstars and Babies

Secret Mitten man: Jimmy Webb returns to Ann Arbor, a place he spent several summers. Photo by Rockstars and Babies.

Michigan has impacted Jimmy Webb in some interesting ways -- especially given that he was born in Oklahoma, lived for many years in California, and now resides on Long Island.

The great songwriter and performer -- who plays solo at The Ark on Sunday, April 29 -- regularly visited the Ann Arbor area as a child. His father, a Baptist minister, took the family on trips here to see another minister when Jimmy was around ages 8-12, he said in a recent phone interview. “Every summer my dad got $100 out of the bank, and we’d pile into the Plymouth or whatever our family vehicle was, and we’d head for Michigan,” he recalled. 

Later, as an adult, Webb returned to Michigan to buy a boat and start a memorable trip from Lake St. Clair through Lake Erie and ultimately down the Hudson River.

Communal Music: Ann Arbor Concert Band preps for its season finale

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Annie Li and Ann Arbor high school band conductors

Ann Arbor high school band conductors Robert Ash (Huron), David Leach (Pioneer), and Jason Smith (Skyline) join clarinetist Annie Li (Pioneer) for the Ann Arbor Concert Band's season finale on May 6.

For the past 39 years, the Ann Arbor Concert Band has prepared for a season finale. That's a lot of successful seasons for a community band consisting of non-professional musicians. Their love for performing will be obvious at the group's latest season finale, "Symphonic Broadway," which will feature music from Mozart, Wicked, Chicago, Phantom of the Opera, A Chorus Line, and a selection of works by Jerome Robbins. 

I talked to Phillip Rhodes, president of the Ann Arbor Concert Band, about the group's history, scholarship, and season-ending concert, which happens May 6 at the Michigan Theater.

BYO Radness: Camp Totally Awesome Fest returns for its 14th year

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Camp Totally Awesome Fest 14

Dogs, tarantulas, and human children are encouraged to come to the 14th Camp Totally Awesome Fest.

In fact, everybody is welcome at this annual Ypsilanti event, but last year Awesome Fest’s guiding force, Patrick Elkins, specifically said dogs, tarantulas, and human children should come hear some jams, and I’m just going to assume the offer stands for this year’s throwdown since the Facebook event post says, “Free! All Ages! All Species!”

Spread over April 27-29 at six venues, Camp Totally Awesome Fest is primarily about music -- there are about 45 bands and a few DJs and performance artists on the lineup -- and the genres span R&B and indie rock to hip-hop and modular-synth electronics.

Songs for Everyone: Joanna & the Jaywalkers project universal emotions with a powerful voice

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Joanna Ransdell

Joanna Ransdell's voice is an audible red light that commands you to stop whatever you were doing and just listen to her sing.

The 28-year-old Ypsilanti resident's gorgeous vox is dark but mellifluous, swinging from the edge of vulnerability to the side of quietly defiant, using slight inflections and lyrical twists to tell her relatable stories. Ransdell's timbre is located in the Stevie Nicks / Natalie Merchant / Patty Griffin solar system -- a full, pure, powerful projection of beauty injected deep into the universe and straight into all your feels.

The Ann Arbor-raised, Community High School-graduating Ransdell recently released The Open Sea Before Meher debut album with Joanna & the Jaywalkers. The record is filled with lovely, low-key chamber-folk pop and it's quite a bit different from Ransdell's 2014 solo LP, Open Fire, which fits squarely in the piano-centric lineage of Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, and Regina Spector.

Out of the Ether: Nancy And Beth conjure musical beauty from the fifth dimension

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Nancy and Beth

Most of us know Megan Mullally as boozy, unapologetically solipsistic Karen Walker on Will & Grace, and also perhaps as Parks & Recreation star Nick Offerman’s real-life partner, but not as a former dancer and Broadway performer. 

This is likely why you’d be surprised to learn that Mullally, in recent years, has teamed up with another multi-talented artist, Stephanie Hunt (who played lesbian bass-player Devin on Friday Night Lights), to form a music duo called Nancy And Beth, which will perform at The Ark on Monday, April 23

Where did the arbitrary names Nancy And Beth come from (complete with a capitalized And)? The answer will tell you a great deal about the two women’s soulmate-like friendship.

“The ether,” said Mullally.

“I was going to say ‘the ether’!” cried Hunt.

Smooth Souls: Cory Wong, Antwaun Stanley & Jacob Sigman at The Blind Pig

MUSIC REVIEW

Cory Wong

After seeing Theo Katzman at The Blind Pig a few weeks ago, I had been restlessly awaiting the concert there by a couple of his Vulfpeck bandmates, guitarist Cory Wong with vocalist Antwaun Stanley

When I got to the gig there were around 40 people milling about, mostly men in their 20s and 30s. As the night went on, more people arrived and the room filled up until we all standing shoulder to shoulder. 

Generation A: U-M's United Asian American Organizations feted the diaspora in song & dance

MUSIC REVIEW

Minji Kim by Brian Lin

Minji Kim of Seoul Juice on stage at the University of Michigan’s Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. Photo by Brian Lin.

On April 7, over 500 of the University of Michigan’s Asian Pacific Islander America (APIA) students gathered in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre for the 23rd annual Generation APA Cultural Show. Organized by the student-run coalition United Asian American Organizations (UAAO), GenAPA is a pan-Asian cultural show that features traditional, modern, and fusion performances of different Asian backgrounds to celebrate the dual diversity and unity within the Asian diaspora.

This was my fourth year attending and the second year performing as a part of Seoul Juice, a Korean-American singing and instrumental cover group, alongside performances like Vietnamese and Chinese fan dances, Korean traditional percussion and pop, Indian classical dance and song, Mongolian instruments, spoken word, hip-hop dancing, and more. 

U-M's University Philharmonia Orchestra closed its season with a Spanish tinge

MUSIC REVIEW

U-M's University Philharmonia Orchestra logo

U-M's University Philharmonia Orchestra wrapped up its 2017-2018 schedule on April 17 with a sonic Spanish tapas along with an exploration of a once-controversial French piece steeped in Germanic influences.

This was my first time in the magnificent Hill Auditorium. While I was reading the program before most of the orchestra came out, I heard a deep, stirring, bellow of a note from the stage. As a bass clarinetist myself, I recognized it as one of the lowest notes that can be played on the instrument. For me, the sound signified that it was going to be an enjoyable night.

Shaman Sounds: Abdullah Ibrahim at the Michigan Theater

MUSIC REVIEW

Abdullah Ibrahim and Ekaya at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor

Detroit baritone saxophonist Alex Harding (pictured far right) joined Abdullah Ibrahim and Ekaya at the Michigan Theater. Photo by Christopher Porter.

Abdullah Ibrahim's concert at the Michigan Theater on April 13 began like all his shows: the pianist alone on stage with his instrument, playing a meditative piece filled with sustained chords, floating harmonies, and a sound that slipped naturally from Bach to blues. Then Cleave Guyton (flute) and Noah Jackson (cello) joined Ibrahim for the chamber-jazz piece "Dream Time" from 2014's Mukashi.

It was in these solo and trio moments that listeners could best appreciate the 83-year-old Ibrahim's piano playing -- because otherwise, he didn't play much at all.

In Extremis: Colin Stetson’s interpretation of Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 pushes it to the edge

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Colin Stetson

Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, Op. 36 is nearly an hour-long dive into anguish.

But rather than sounding angry, aggressive, or atonal, the three movements that comprise Górecki’s “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” are stunningly beautiful.

Symphony No. 3 is filled with dolor, but the modal framework, simple harmonies, and gentile repetition give the music a familiar and comforting feeling despite being inspired by stories and songs of mothers and children being separated by war.

On the album Sorrow -- A Reimagining of Górecki's Third Symphony, Ann Arbor native Colin Stetson tweaks the mega-popular work in a way that stays true to the composition’s raw emotional state while also diving deeper into its deep well of gorgeous despair. (You can hear Stetson and 11 other musicians in the Sorrow band, including Ann Arbor’s Justin Walter (EVI, synths), Dan Bennett (sax), and Andrew Bishop (sax), perform the piece at the Michigan Theater on Saturday, April 14.)