A breathtakingly brilliant harmonica player who’s been an essential part of the Ann Arbor music scene for decades, Peter Madcat Ruth will officially celebrate his 70th birthday on Tuesday, April 2. But his big birthday bash will happen two days later at The Ark on Thursday, April 4, when he’ll be joined by an impressive number of special guests for a roof-raising celebration. Joining Madcat at The Ark will be Howard Levy, Chris Brubeck, Joshua Davis, Corky Siegel, Shari Kane, Seth Bernard, Rachael Davis, Drew Howard, Michael Shimmin, Mark Schrock, Dominic Davis, William Apostol, Dick Siegel, and Joel Brown, with the proceedings emceed by WEMU-FM music host Michael Jewett.
Madcat is understandably best known for his virtuosic harmonica playing, but he’s also a gifted vocalist and just as impressive on ukulele, guitar, and a host of other instruments.
Recently I spoke to the laid-back, always friendly American roots music practitioner about his career, his upcoming birthday bash, and some of the top artists he’s worked with over the last 50 years or so.
Down With Blue Jeans: Tim Sendra talks bubblegum pop and the effort to preserve his brother's legacy
Sometimes you're just too close to a situation to write a clever lede.
Blue Jeans features the married couple Tim Sendra (guitar) and Heather Phares (bass) with David Serra (drums). The Ann Arbor indie-rock trio's second album, Adult Hits, was produced by Fred Thomas and released on his cassette via his Life Like label.
Down MF featured Scott Sendra, Tim's brother, and a cast of friends and family members who helped the late guitarist and singer bringing his singular vision of strong-song-based noise-rock to hiss-filled vinyl. Last year, Thomas assisted Tim in bringing together Down's 7-inch singles for a compilation LP, Critically Acclaimed, released on the Loch Alpine label, named after the Dexter subdivision where the Sendras grew up. (Read an interview about Down's history here.)
I've known the Sendra brothers for 33 years, performed in bands with both of them in the early '90s -- I played bass on the first two Down singles and was in Veronica Lake with Tim -- and have recorded with everybody named in the preceding paragraphs aside from Serra (though it seems inevitable). I grieved intensely when Scott died of brain cancer in 2017. I was deeply thankful for Tim and Fred's efforts to honor Scott's sui generis talent by compiling Critically Acclaimed. There is no journalistic distance between me and these humans. I love them and their art -- and you should, too. That's it.
Blue Jeans rarely perform live, but the group will shake off the rust on Saturday, March 30 at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti to celebrate the release of Adult Hits, which is also coming out on vinyl via the Spanish label Bobo Integral. I talked to Tim Sendra about Blue Jeans' sound, Down MF, and the future of his Loch Alpine label.
With two Blues Music Award nominations and a new album, Sugaray Rayford has made 2019 his year -- and it isn’t even April yet.
As part of a concert series supporting this year's Ann Arbor Blues Festival (August 16-19), the Texas-born, Los Angeles-based Rayford and his band will be making their first visit to Ann Arbor, promising a fabulous night of blues at Club Above on Sunday, March 31, in support of their recently released album, Somebody Save Me (Forty Below Records).
The entire album is the perfect vehicle for Rayford’s incredibly authentic voice and charisma. The record grabs the listener by her collar and takes her across the Mississippi Delta, through Chicago, to West Coast Swing, down to Texas, and back again. Described as having an “old school vocal style” reminiscent of such musicians as Muddy Waters, Otis Redding. and Teddy Pendergrass, Rayford seems tailor-made for the songs that appear on the album.
Quite the Panorama: The Kelseys' "Pollyanna" is a joy-inducing song and video about overcoming sadness
The opening lyrics of The Kelseys' "Pollyanna" make it sound like it's going be a song about the devastation of depression:
Underneath all of the smiles
Lies an emptiness that eats her alive
Masked by all the joy and the laughter
Is a voice screaming, "I'm not alright!"
But by the time the band hits the pre-chorus and chorus, the soaring song shifts into an anthem for overcoming:
She puts her hand around me
Well, maybe we should go
Girl, raise your voice up high
Run run run
Till we're all out of breath
Sun sun sun
Beating down on our neck
Look at the horizon
Quite the panorama
Don't you ever worry
"'Pollyanna' is kind of a mixed story influenced by multiple people in my life," said singer-guitarist Peter Kwitny. "So many people struggle with things on the inside and put on brave faces to hide what they are really feeling, and I wanted it to be a song that people could relate to on a deep level."
Named after the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, the Ann Arbor quartet is made up of U-M students Kwitny, drummer Josh Cukier, guitarist Evan Dennis, and bassist Liam O'Toole. (The band plays a free concert at Lo-Fi in Ann Arbor on Thursday, March 28.)
When Pulp contributor Nicco Pandolfi spoke to the rising jam band Chirp in December 2017, singer-guitarist Jay Frydenlund said the Ann Arbor quartet was recording a studio album that would come out in 2018.
Fast forward to March 2019 and that self-titled album has finally materialized, and Chirp will celebrate its release on Saturday, March 23 at The Blind Pig.
Check out the video for "Greener," the first single from Chirp's new studio record, and listen to the live album the band put out in 2018, recorded June 30 at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. Also, you can read an interview about the studio album's making over on the This Is a Good Sound blog.
When musicians write compositions, often they aren't able to hear a fully fleshed-out arrangement until it gets in the hands of their bands.
Norwegian jazz star Mathias Eick plays trumpet, vibraphone, double bass, guitar, piano -- and he sings. This means Eick gets to arrange and hear nearly every part of his gorgeous, evocative, kind-of-blue songs before he brings them to his band.
"I usually make full demos of the music playing all instruments, and I then have a wide understanding of what’s going on with the other guys once we start playing the new compositions," Eick said. "I've always thought that's an advantage."
Eick may play something other than trumpet, his primary instrument, when he becomes the first artist to perform at Blue LLama Jazz Club, a brand new music space in downtown Ann Arbor. But he'll likely leave the other instruments to his ace band: Nikolai Eilertsen (bass), Håkon Aase (violin), Erlend Slettvoll (piano), and Torstein Lofthus (drums).
Aase and Lofthus appear on the trumpeter's latest album, Ravensburg, his fourth for the legendary ECM Records, which has forever specialized in the sort of cool, colorific music at which Eick excels.
Caviar Gold's Melancholia is the soundtrack to the imaginary sequel of Pretty in Pink. You can imagine Duckie and Andie sitting in her bedroom and listening to the eight songs on the Ann Arbor trio's debut album as they write poetry and wonder whatever happened to Blane.
Created over the course of nearly six years, Melancholia is awash in moody synths, melodic bass lines covered in chorus effects, and plaintive vocals crooning sorrowful tales. Jason Lymangrover handled the music; Josh Thiele the vocals. Crystal Collins also sings on the album and she's also now a member of Caviar Gold, which celebrates the release of Melancholia with a concert at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti on March 15.
Stream Melancholia below as you read Lymangrover's answers to some questions about how the album was created and how Caviar Gold came to life.
Nadim Azzam has a lot on his plate. He’s launching a new "music-based, local-focused media company," writing new songs, and doing social media and marketing as part of his day job.
But he’s recently carved out some time to record a five-song EP with the band he’s been fronting in recent years. Even as his new music is adding more electronic elements, he wanted to honor and preserve the sound he’s become known for -- a smooth, seamless combination of acoustic pop and hip-hop.
Azzam makes the blend work perfectly, with a typical song offering up a catchy guitar hook and traditionally structured lyrics that slide directly into a rap break and then back again. He’ll showcase the sound -- and in particular, the songs on the new EP -- at a Blind Pig show on March 15. (CDs will be available at the show; the EP hits streaming services in April.)
Korde Arrington Tuttle and The National's Bryce Dessner examine photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's work through song in "Triptych (Eyes of One on Another)"
By the time the singers, musicians, and iconoclastic images of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe take the stage at Ann Arbor's Power Center on Friday, March 15, everything should be in place for the premiere of a new UMS-commissioned work examining the late photographer's work and legacy through song.
But just a little over a week ago, composer Bryce Dessner admitted some tweaks were still being made.
"With these types of new works, the music and the staging and the piece is always evolving," he said. "The ink is still drying, so we can kind of feel that, which I think is exciting. There are some last-minute changes I'm making to the score. By the time it gets to Ann Arbor, it will have settled more."
"It" is Triptych (Eyes of One on Another), a re-examining of Mapplethorpe's work 29 years after the famous obscenity trial over a retrospective of his photographs in Cincinnati -- and 30 years after the artist died of AIDS -- made a lasting impression on a teenage Dessner.
Produced by Thomas Kriegsman at ArKtype, with music by Dessner, libretto by Korde Arrington Tuttle, and direction by Kaneza Schaal, the show also features Grammy-winning vocal group Roomful of Teeth with soloists Alicia Hall Moran and Isaiah Robinson.
Dessner has a Wiki entry full of impressive composing credits; he's performed with new music giants, like Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and David Lang; and he plays guitar in Grammy-winning indie rock band The National, which also plays Hill Auditorium on June 25 in support of its latest record, I Am Easy to Find.
I caught up with the prolific musician by phone on the eve of Triptych's music premier at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
Funtime: Photographer Paul McAlpine's "BARE + REAL" captures Iggy Pop at the height of his solo career
Iggy Pop is a photographer's dream.
The Ann Arbor native's sinewy body, hollow cheeks, intense eyes, and manic contortions make for photos that leap with life.
And that's exactly what photographer Paul McAlpine wanted to convey in his new book of Pop pix.
"BARE + REAL is a book about life -- passion, art, music -- keeping your eyes open and friends near," McAlpine said. "The book is filled with wonderful images that I feel have aged well with time."
McAlpine first shot Pop in 1977 at the first American concert of The Idiot tour in the photographer's native Boston. For the next decade-plus, McAlpine toured with Pop numerous times and amassed a huge collection of concert photographs featuring one of rock 'n' roll's greatest frontmen.
The limited edition BARE + REAL is 236 pages of the best of those photos, plus introductions by McAlpine and Pop, all housed in a 12" x 12" LP-sized slipcase.
I emailed with McAlpine to find out more about BARE + REAL and how he came to be Pop's go-to photographer -- or Jim, as he calls the man born James Newell Osterberg Jr.