Pulp Bits: A Roundup of Washtenaw County Arts & Culture Stories, Songs & Videos

Pulp Bits

Photo collage used Eck Stanger's photo "McOmber/Ullman Wedding - June 30, 1945" from The Ann Arbor News and Pulp's album cover for Different Class.

A round-up of arts and culture stories featuring people, places, and things in Washtenaw County, whether they're just passing through or Townies for life. Coverage includes music, visual art, film & video, theater & dance, written word, and Pulp life (food, fairs, and more). 

Featuring new music by The Kelseys and Stef Chura, plus a short film about sleeping in various public spots in Ann Arbor at 5 am, and much more.

Jazz Is: Guitarist Elden Kelly and The Outrospectives play “Dancing Light: Music of Gregg Hill” at Blue LLama

MUSIC REVIEW

Elden Kelly & Gregg Hill

In college, I had a professor who used to enjoy asking the students in jazz history class to define jazz. He would say, “What is jazz?” and then sit back and listen to us try to answer this seemingly basic question. We know it when we hear it, but since we can’t quite put our fingers on what makes something “jazz,” we use other words like bebop, post-bop, modern, avant-garde, free, and fusion to help us out. Usually, I deplore circular reasoning, but when it comes to impossible questions, sometimes the answer is in the question itself. Jazz is what jazz musicians do. What’s a jazz musician? A person who plays jazz is a jazz musician. What’s jazz again?

On May 9 I attended the CD release show for The Outrospectives' new record, Dancing Light: Music of Gregg Hillat Ann Arbor’s Blue LLama Jazz Club. Guitarist Elden Kelly assembled this band to play compositions by Gregg Hill. Elden arranged the music for a specific quintet of gifted musicians, and he worked with Hill to transcribe the music over the course of the past six years. What made this concert exciting were the ways in which this group and the music it played were both firmly rooted in jazz traditions, while simultaneously breaking new ground and bringing in non-jazz elements (or at least elements that are not traditionally associated with jazz). 

The group itself is almost a traditional quintet, but with some caveats.

Where Many Rivers Meet: Debashish Bhattacharya explored Indian classical music on Hawaiian lap-steel guitar at the jazz club Blue LLama

MUSIC REVIEW

Debashish Bhattacharya

Indian classical music is not jazz, but both traditions have some commonalities, particularly improvisation, which is a critical and highly developed skill in both genres. Those commonalities -- and tons of skill -- were on display May 2 during Debashish Bhattacharya's performance at the new Blue LLama jazz club in Ann Arbor.

Indian classical music and jazz traditions are often transmitted orally. Musicians are held to a high standard of excellence. There is a tension between tradition and innovation that helps to ground the music without causing it to sound stale and boring. And in the case of Bhattacharya, who has brought the Hawaiian lap steel into the world of Indian classical music, there is a willingness to explore music beyond the traditional boundaries of style or genre.

I took my seat at the back of the club about 20 minutes before show time. My server brought me a small, single-bite portion of palak chaat, a salad of crispy spinach, yogurt, and curry created by Chef Louis that had been inspired by the evening's music. Blue LLama is very serious about its mission of combining “the love of food with the love of music” (and why there are two capital LLs in the club's name). The food is delicious and the venue has been designed from the ground up for incredible sound and vibe. It's definitely the classiest place in town to see live music.

Pulp Bits: A Roundup of Washtenaw County Arts & Culture Stories

Pulp Bits

A round-up of arts and culture stories featuring people, places, and things in Washtenaw County, whether they're just passing through or Townies for life. Coverage includes music, visual art, film & video, theater & dance, written word, and Pulp life (food, fairs, and more). Sources this time are:

➥ a2books.org
➥ All About Ann Arbor
➥ Ann Arbor Observer
➥ Concentrate
➥ CTN Ann Arbor
➥ Current
➥ Detroit Free Press
➥ Detroit Metro Times
➥ Detroit News
➥ Encore Michigan
➥ Life in Michigan
➥ Lifting Up A2 Jazz
➥ MLive
➥ The Michigan Daily
➥ The Saline Post
➥ WCBN Local Music Show
➥ We Love Ann Arbor

D.C.-area rapper Joey Blanco makes his Michigan debut at AADL

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Joey Blanco

Northern Virginia rapper Joey Blanco been called a modern Big Pun or Noreaga because of his suave vocal style and Latin heritage.

And when asked about his influences, Blanco admits that Pun, along with Jay-Z, Big L, Nas, and Biggie, is one of his favorites.

But Blanco has his own cadence and tone, marked by assertive vocals rapping English lyrics peppered with colorful Spanish ad-libs.

"I think it’s doing great," Blanco said of Latino hip-hop, "I just feel as though there’s no artists that perform in English and that are killing it with the Spanish ad-libs. I feel like I’m bringing that to the game. I’m just trying to bring something new to the Spanish culture."

Fangs and Twang celebrate a monster of a new album at Ziggy’s

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Fangs & Twangs

The local band Fangs and Twang may have started out as a joke, but it’s turned out to be a really good one. 

Combining a rootsy, country-rock sound -- that’s the “twang” -- with songs about monsters and other scary things -- that’s the “fangs” -- the band has been sharpening its sound for the past four years, releasing three albums along the way. 

The core band consists of Joe Bertoletti on bass, Andy Benes on guitar and mandolin, and Billy LaLonde on drums. All three contribute vocals, and the band's sound is augmented by keyboards and fiddle on the album. “This band is all about collaboration and I'm really proud that this collaboration also extends to vocal duties,” Benes says.

Their latest album, the just-released Spirits and Chasers, perfectly balances Fangs and Twang’s offbeat outlook with the members’ first-rate musical chops. The band will celebrate the new album with a record-release show April 27 at Ziggy’s in Ypsilanti.

The title track on the new album is a standout, featuring some clever lyrics over a gritty roots-rock sound. “The Ballad of the Legend of the Saga of Swamp Thing” encapsulates the band’s goofy sense of humor. The infectious “Ogo Pogo” sounds like straightforward country, with a long instrumental intro that showcases the band’s instrumental abilities. The album’s six original songs are rounded out by a perfectly-on-point cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla.”

The band members jointly answered a few questions via email:

U-M music professor / Beatles expert returns to AADL to discuss the "White Album"

MUSIC PREVIEW

The Beatles' White Album

Walter Everett, professor of music theory at the University of Michigan and author of The Beatles As Musicians: Revolver Through the Anthology, returns to AADL on Thursday, April 25, to deliver a lecture titled "Children of Nature: Origins of the Beatles' Tabula Rasa" in honor of the Fab Faux's upcoming performance of the "White Album" at Michigan Theater on Saturday, May 11.

The Beatles continually reinvented themselves. In 1966, Revolver announced itself with a warped reinvention of the 1-2-3-4 count-off that had introduced their first album. A year later, for Sgt. Pepper's, they created another band in their own image. The slate was wiped clean again with the "White Album," not only by their desire to return to the natural state sought in their early-1968 Himalayan meditative rituals but also through their 180-degree turn from the lavish artifice of Pepper, an album high with artistic pretensions, groundbreakingly imaginative lyrics, radically colorful instrumentation, and a deep exploration beyond the limits of four-track recording, its extravagance marked by a groove intended only for dogs, all wrapped in a cover as opulent as it was mystifying.

In contrast, the plain white cover of the 1968 double album emblematized the group's return to nothingness just as surely as did their removal of the garish 1967 paint jobs from three of their guitars, now stripped down to bare wood. This new blank slate cast the group not in the austere, somber tones of the With the Beatles cover photo from 1963, but in a new light as if an optimistic eggshell of unlimited possibilities was about to hatch. In this presentation, Everett aims to show that in many ways, a post-India back-to-nature simplicity may be seen to have guided much of the "White Album"'s motivational impulses.

Check out the videos below of Everett's previous visits to AADL when he discussed Sgt. Pepper's and Abbey Road.

The Art of the LP: Record Store Day 2019

MUSIC VISUAL ART REVIEW

AADL Record Store Day 2019

Since its inception in April 2008, fans of vinyl LPs have flocked to their favorite independent shops for the event known as Record Store Day. Created to promote patronage among local music sellers, Record Store Day has grown immensely over the last decade. 

In 2017, AADL got in on the action and began hosting a pop-up record fair at the downtown library. Located in walking distance from Ann Arbor’s three record shops -- Wazoo Records, Encore Records, and Underground Sounds -- AADL aimed to provide vinyl enthusiasts another place to dig through crates, mingle with other music fans, and take a look at the growing collection of LPs available for checkout at the library. 

If you missed us this year, be sure to keep an eye out for our 2020 Record Store Day next April. And if you’re clamoring for more music, be sure to check out AADL's collection of vinyl and CDs, as well as the Ann Arbor Music & Performance Server (AAMPS), where you can download local music offerings.

This year’s event at AADL saw 16 independent vendors cover more than 700 square feet of table space with their sonic wares and the volume and variety did not disappoint any enthusiastic attendees. Local DJ Aaron Batzdorfer spun tunes all afternoon, minus a brief respite where his son Porter stepped in on the wheels of steel. In the library’s Secret Lab, patrons exercised their imaginations and created their own LP album art -- many of which are posted below.

Rock 'n' Roll Heart: JD McPherson at The Blind Pig

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

JD McPherson band

Photo by Jena Ardell

I was a fan of JD McPherson’s music the moment I heard his debut album, Signs & Signifiers, around seven years ago. This was high-energy rock 'n' roll that immediately brought to mind the early masters of the genre -- think Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochrane, Bo Diddley.  

Rural Oklahoma native McPherson specializes in original material, not cover versions, and he and his dynamite group -- together for eight years -- put a fresh spin on music too often thought of as golden oldies, something safe and nostalgic. McPherson’s discography is thoroughly listenable and also includes 2015’s Let the Good Times Roll, 2017’s Undivided Heart & Soul (my personal favorite), plus Socks, his delightful album of new Christmas songs released late last year.

McPherson and his band -- bassist Jimmy Sutton, keyboardist Raynier Jacob Jacildo, drummer Jason Smay, and saxophonist/guitarist Doug Corcoran -- were in fantastic form when they played in Ann Arbor last summer as part of Bank of Ann Arbor’s Sonic Lunch concert series, and they return to town this Wednesday, April 17 for a show at The Blind Pig. I caught up with JD McPherson by phone last week as he was getting ready for a concert in Calgary, Alberta and had a lively discussion about everything from favorite recording studios to Socks to the reasons behind his rock 'n' roll sensibility.

Joe Hertler and The Rainbow Seekers rocked their weekend residency at The Blind Pig

MUSIC REVIEW

When Pulp talked to Joe Hertler in March 2017, he explained that for him and his group, The Rainbow Seekers, “Every show is a celebration in human connection. We are honored to cultivate an experience where people can have fun and be themselves.” 

Two years later, the connection still remains.

Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers played at The Blind Pig on both March 30 and 31, their second two-night stop in Ann Arbor this academic year. Before the March 31 show even began, people were hollering at the band from the floor and taking pictures of flower-strewn stage.