Timothy Monger cleaned out his songwriting notebook for a new album recorded at home
Long known as one of the leading talents on the local music scene, Timothy Monger has always had a distinctive songwriting voice. The names of two of the bands he’s led—the late, lamented Great Lakes Myth Society and the current Timothy Monger State Park—give some clues to the subjects of his songs, which often look to the outdoors, history, and other rootsy pursuits.
Those sorts of themes show up again on Monger’s new album, his fourth as a solo artist, which is simply titled Timothy Monger. Yet as he always manages to do, he finds fresh perspectives and new approaches, and the result stands out from his previous body of work.
The album is literally the result of Monger returning to his notebooks and fleshing out ideas found there, recording the songs entirely at his home in a style he describes as “homespun psych-folk.” A few of the songs are snippets of less than 30 seconds, but that’s all they require to tell their particular story. Others bring characters to life, such as a fictional “Cub Reporter” or the real-life theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore, who Monger memorably describes as “the one who finally gave the ghosts a voice.”
“Shadow of the Weka” is a charming instrumental with Celtic overtones. And there are several nods to Michigan, including “Cranberry Bog,” “Luna Pier,” and “Sa-Wa-Quato.”
Monger recently answered a few questions about the new recording, which comes out on June 2, the same day as his album release show at The Ark.
Nature's Way: Cathy Barry's "Connatural" paintings at Matthaei Botanical Gardens explore biological patterns
Cathy Barry’s Connatural exhibit at the University of Michigan's Matthaei Botanical Gardens inspires the viewer to look at the natural world through a new lens.
“Nature is the big umbrella of what inspires and has always informed my work,” the Ann Arbor painter writes in her artist’s statement. “My most recent work focuses on collecting and referencing biological sources and patterns found in nature.”
Some of those biological sources even provide colors for Barry's paintings as well as textures embedded into the works.
"I am extracting colors from local sources—in the backyard or the grocery store—including buckthorn, cattail, turmeric root, forsythia, beets, mulberry, yellow and purple onion skins," the Stamps lecturer writes in her artist's statement. "I then reference older practices by experimenting with inlay work of painted paper, traditionally used to create jewelry, furniture, mosaics and textiles. I am creating motifs and abstract compositions by cutting shapes from my plant-based paintings, fitting them together and assembling them. I am integrating materials with form and subject in my painting to evoke a peaceful wholeness that references the innate wisdom of nature."
Nature isn't the only thing referenced in Connatural, though only fans of one of the world's biggest pop stars might notice.
"For any Swifties out there, take a closer look at some of the titles in the exhibition," she said with a smile.
Barry answered a few questions about the exhibit, which runs through April 30.
Tight Fit: Misty Lyn & the Big Beautiful worked their way through a car crash and a pandemic to navigate the "Narrows"
It’s been a while since local acoustic music fans have heard from Misty Lyn Bergeron, the accomplished singer, songwriter, and leader of the standout roots band Misty Lyn & the Big Beautiful.
A serious car crash, a global pandemic, and other issues created some challenges and delays, but at last there’s a new album out, Narrows, and it’s more than worth the wait. It features Bergeron’s warm, expressive voice; her first-rate band, and a fresh batch of well-crafted songs about some big themes like love, friendship, and perseverance.
To celebrate Narrows, Misty Lyn & the Big Beautiful are having a record-release show at The Ark in Ann Arbor on February 17.
"Jim Roll will be our special guest, and it’s also how I’m celebrating my birthday," Bergeron said. "The Ark is my absolute favorite venue, and it has been years since my whole band has been on that stage. I am so excited to share this music alongside these amazing artists. It’s going to be a special night for us!"
Bergeron is also a talented photographer, but we focused on her music in this email interview.
Sweet and Dour: Ann Arbor's Seaholm mixes pop-punk with dark lyrics on "It's Raining Outside"
If there was any doubt that a good pop-punk/power pop band can still cut through the musical clutter and make a powerful statement, Ann Arbor-based Seaholm proves it with style.
For example, check out “Cough Syrup,” a terrific single and video from the band’s new album, It’s Raining Outside. In just 2:11, the band offers a tremendous burst of musical energy, memorable visuals, and an earworm (“Can you please tell me what’s going on?”) that will stick with you for days.
It’s Raining Outside is a short, sharp album that displays the band’s talent for combining dynamic musicianship with thoughtful lyrics. On “Weatherman,” the album’s keystone, they sing: “What’s the weather like today? / I want the rain to wash me away / Cleanse me of my guilt and take me home / Say goodbye to the life that I’ve always known.”
Although an earlier lineup did some recordings, It’s Raining Outside fully introduces the current band, which consists of Pat Ray on guitar and vocals, Austin Stawowczyk on bass and vocals, and Kris Herrmann on drums and vocals.
Ray answered a few questions about Seaholm's history and new album via email.
Ann Arbor singer-pianist Hannah Baiardi makes jazz her own on "Straight From the Soul"
This story originally ran July 27, 2021. We're rerunning it because March 22, 2022, is the one-year anniversary of the album's release. Her latest single, "Lot Lot," is available here.
Hannah Baiardi has been writing and performing music since age 3, so it’s no surprise that her first full-length album, Straight From the Soul, is a polished and thoughtful work.
Although a listener might categorize the music as contemporary jazz, Baiardi clearly draws on other influences as diverse as R&B and new age, and it all comes through on the album. The University of Michigan grad (BFA ’18, jazz studies) offers smooth, heartfelt vocals and evocative piano playing, which combine for a distinctive and memorable sound. She’s backed by an excellent supporting cast, including Karen Tomalis on drums on most tracks and Marion Hayden or Ryan King on bass.
Baiardi writes much of her own material. The album features five original compositions, ranging from the wistful yet hopeful “Who Can Relate” and “Distant Land” to the joyful “Let Go” and “Feel It.” The album concludes with “Transit,” an outstanding instrumental showcase.
The album also features two pop favorites from old movies—an introspective take on “Windmills of Your Mind” from The Thomas Crown Affair and “The Summer Knows” from Summer of ’42, which makes for ideal listening in the summer of ’21.
Baiardi recently agreed to answer a few questions via email.
From the Roots: Chris DuPont's heartfelt "Floodplains" explores raw emotions without dwelling in darkness
When Chris DuPont released his latest album, Floodplains, earlier this year, it would have been easy to assume the themes of isolation and loss grew out of the pandemic. Yet all the songs were actually written pre-COVID, the Ypsilanti-based musician explained in a recent email interview.
The album continues DuPont’s remarkable run of thoughtful, heartfelt songwriting brought to life with impeccable singing and musicianship. The album has an intimate feel, highlighted by DuPont’s expressive guitar playing and flawless supporting accompaniment. “Retrieve” leads off the album, musing about how new relationships can heal broken ones, with guest vocalist Olivia Dear enriching the sound.
Several songs have an undercurrent of regret, and there are plenty of examples of DuPont’s knack for arresting lyrics. “Start Again,” featuring Rin Tarsy on vocals, is particularly affecting as DuPont sings, “I have never faced so steep a valley / As the center of the mattress in a wedding bed.” The album closes with touching “In the Lap of the Mountain (Benediction),” concluding that ultimately we all need someone else.
DuPont recently answered some questions about Floodplains:
Modern Soul(s): Vulfpeck collaborator Antwaun Stanley connected with former My Dear Disco/Ella Riot leader Tyler Duncan for a new EP
Antwaun Stanley's powerful voice sounds like it came from another time, cast from the deep grooves of a 1960s R&B record.
That's why it's always a treat when the Ann Arbor singer appears as a featured vocalist with jam-funk-soul stars Vulfpeck or with one of the other bands for which he's associated.
But a new EP, Ascension, shows Stanley taking a big step forward as a solo artist. The record was made in collaboration with Ann Arbor multi-instrumentalist and producer Tyler Duncan. His impressive resume includes leading the Irish crossover group Millish and the dance-rock project My Dear Disco, aka Ella Riot, as well as producing songs for Carly Rae Jepsen and Lake Street Dive.
The EP isn’t technically Stanley's solo debut—he released a gospel album a few years back—but it does showcase his artistic voice in a new way with a modern R&B sound.
Ascension features three fully developed songs and three largely instrumental interludes. “Speed of Night” recalls old-school R&B, while “Tightrope” offers inspiration through James Blake-like soul-tronica. “Lost in Translation” is the EP's stand-out with its addictive groove, great singing, strong lyrics, and a crackling horn section.
Stanley answered a few questions about the new EP and his other work.
Kenyatta Rashon explores "The Art of Keeping It Real" on her accomplished debut album
Ypsilanti singer and songwriter Kenyatta Rashon showcases a polished R&B sound spiced up with some hip-hop accents on her terrific debut album, The Art of Keeping It Real.
Rashon has a distinctive singing voice, both expressive and powerful. And her songs are uniformly strong, with memorable melodies and vibrant lyrics. “YoFi” and “W.rong” express regrets for lost love, while “I am” and “H4L” are anthems of self-empowerment. The single “Free” establishes a great summer listening vibe over wistful and wise lyrics: “Some things could change and some things could not / But I made peace with the things I got / I’m free”
Rashon answered a few questions about the album for Pulp.
Bill Edwards made the most of the pandemic era with an ambitious new album, "Whole Cloth"
Where some musicians may have understandably felt limited by the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ann Arbor singer-songwriter Bill Edwards took it as an opportunity.
Unable to collaborate with other musicians, Edwards decided to record full-band music all by himself—playing instruments both familiar and new, and learning software packages as well. He wrote, recorded, and started the process again, ultimately finding himself with 30 fully finished songs.
The resulting album, Whole Cloth, is a major achievement, filled with gems about chasing love, finding love, losing love, and more—and shifting among various musical subgenres that all fit under the broad umbrella of Americana, from old-time country to roots rock to western swing.
While nearly all the songs concern relationships in one way or another, “You’re Still Here” is a touching ode to a friend long gone, while “Ain’t Wet Yet” finds some humor in the politics of trickle-down economics and “Sing Me” praises the power of music itself.
Edwards, who was already skilled on multiple instruments, uses his versatile abilities to great effect throughout the album, such as a warm acoustic guitar solo on “Slow Down the Moon” and wistful fiddle on “Billy’s Lament.” The latter is one of three instrumentals on the album, crafted while Edwards had a paralyzed vocal cord— even that couldn’t slow down his creative process.
He's performing a free-admission album release concert on Aug. 27 with Lauren Crane opening the show.
"I’ll play a short selection of my favorite older songs, and then dig into the new record," Edwards said. "For the latter, since the arrangements rely heavily on drums and a variety of lead instruments, I’ll play acoustic guitar and sing to tracks from the album. I’ve got them recorded in my looper pedal, and it works quite well."
Edwards agreed to answer some questions about the new album.
Nessa’s new album explores an “Otherworld” as well as our own
The third album from Ann Arbor's Nessa showcases an ensemble remaining true to its roots while stretching out thematically.
Led by flutist/vocalist Kelly McDermott, the band continues to develop its own particular strain of Celtic-inspired world music. And on the new album, Otherworld, that sound serves to explore two specific themes: of women finding truth and a prayer for the planet.
Joining McDermott in the core band are Rob Crozier on bass and other instruments; Dan Palmer, guitars; Mike List, percussion; Rick Beamon, drums; and Brian Brill, keyboards. Brill and McDermott produced the record.
The album opens with a composition about another world and devotes its second half to an “Elemental Suite” celebrating our own world. The title track is a haunting, flute-led instrumental that sets the stage for what’s to come. Thoughtful and enchanting, it effectively suggests the idea of another dimension. Written by Crozier, “RGB Reel” -- inspired by Ruther Bader Ginsburg -- showcases his expert bass playing. Dan Palmer’s “Buiochas” is a beautiful take on Irish jazz.
The music on Otherworld is largely original compositions, but the band also weaves in reinventions of traditional songs, further extending the notion of both staying rooted and reaching out. “Sovay” is mellow and jazzy, while “Wraggle Taggle Gypsies” has an almost reggae feel. And “Stitch in Time” even manages to successfully work in rap elements.
The four parts of the closing suite each evoke their particular element. “Air for St. Brigid” features gorgeous wordless vocals; “Singing Waters” uses water sounds and a flute that suggests a flowing river. “Fire Dance” takes listeners from embers to a roaring blaze.
McDermott answered a few questions about the new album via email.