Broken Branch Breakdown is a backyard party for all of Ann Arbor

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Broken Branch Breakdown 2018

Over the first four years of its existence, the Broken Branch Breakdown roots-music festival has established itself as a truly grassroots event in the Ann Arbor community.

Admission is free. The vibe is casual and family friendly. The music itself is rootsy, mostly falling somewhere into the Americana/folk/jam-band genres.

It’s almost like somebody just invites all of Ann Arbor over to relax and listen to some tunes in the backyard. And in fact, that’s exactly what happens.

Mustard’s Retreat comes full circle with a new album, new shows, and the return to a trio

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Mustard's Retreat by Love Imagery

Mustard's Retreat by Love Imagery

Over more than 40 years making music together, Mustard’s Retreat has established a reputation around the region as a talented and entertaining folk duo -- two guys and two guitars.

However, the group actually started out as a trio -- and for a new album and current concerts, original member Libby Glover has rejoined David Tamulevich and Michael Hough. Her presence brings a whole new dimension to the Mustard’s Retreat sound, yet the transition sounds just like it feels -- perfectly natural.

“When David and I first began singing together, something happened. We didn’t have the words to articulate what it was, but we both felt it was important. Then when Libby and David began singing together, something more happened,” Hough says of the group’s 1970s roots. They soon started working as a trio and found a special sound. But life took Glover out of state and Mustard’s Retreat made its reputation as a duo.

Fun House: Ron Asheton's 70th Birthday Celebration at The Blind Pig

MUSIC REVIEW INTERVIEW

The Shemps at the Asheton family home

The Shemps outside the Asheton family home in Ann Arbor. Front: Jennifer Herrema. L to R: Henry McGroggan, Kim Gordon, Don Fleming, Kathy Asheton, Mario Rubacalba, Mike Watt, J Mascis, and Mark Arm. Photo via the Ron Asheton Foundation.

Kathy Asheton’s voice was cracking.

“It’s all very sensitive,” she said, the sentence trailing off to silence.

She’s recalling her brothers, Ron and Scott, the guitarist (and later bassist) and drummer for The Stooges.

Ron died in 2009 at 60 and Scott in 2014 at 64, and their younger sister still struggles with their loss.

The Facebook page Kathy runs for the Ron Asheton Foundation is filled with personal remembrances and family photos taken in their West Ann Arbor home near Weber’s Restaurant. Her mom bought the house from Herman Weber in 1964, and it's still owned by Kathy.

The modest 1,400 square foot structure, with its brick facade on the lower half and siding on top, doesn’t look like the sort of place that would launch a musical revolution. But the band that helped plant the roots for punk rock, The Stooges, began its life here, all with the blessing of mother Ann Asheton.

“She was not only accommodating by letting my brothers practice -- that’s where the band literally started, in the family home,” Kathy said. “But she could also rip and say, ‘Don’t drink out of the milk cartons!’ and let us have it. She was a mom in the true sense. She yelled at them like she yelled at us.”

“Them” includes the MC5 and other bands who passed through the Asheton home, and it was Iggy who Ann yelled at for drinking out of the milk carton. Momma Asheton’s support was repaid in song.

Star Power: Sunflower Bean at Sonic Lunch

MUSIC REVIEW

Sunflower Bean at Sonic Lunch

Photo by Christopher Porter.

Some people seem destined to be stars.

Sunflower Bean is fronted by a supernova.

The New York-based Julia Cumming (bass, vocals), Nick Kivlen (guitar, vocals), and Jacob Faber (drums) flew to Ann Arbor specifically to play Sonic Lunch on July 12, and their 13-song spirited performance under sunny skies turned Liberty Plaza into a rock 'n' roll club.

"Are you guys here for a good time?" Cumming said. "Just because it's noon it doesn't mean we can't rock." She then taught the crowd to sing along with the "no, no, no" part of the chorus for "Crisis Fest."

Nothing Goofy: Roe/Bickley/Kramer explore Disney music & more on their new CD

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

kramer-bickley-roe-ravens-cub

Monday night special: The Roe/Bickley/Kramer trio holds down a weekly gig at The Ravens Club in Ann Arbor. Photo by Christopher Porter.

The Ravens Club loves seasonal cocktails. Right now you can get the Donga Punch, As You Wish, Judge Holden, and The Filby Cocktail.

But come fall, the drinks will change with the leaves.

For the past year, though, at least one thing’s been constant at the club on 207 S. Main St. in Ann Arbor -- and I’m not talking about the 150 whiskeys on the menu. Every Monday night from 9 pm-12 am you can find the Rick Roe (keyboards), Rob Bickley (bass), and Jesse Kramer (drums) trio performing a mix of originals, jazz standards, and a whole lotta Thelonious Monk.

But the most intriguing part of the trio is its dedication to exploring Disney’s music.

Five of the songs on the group’s new CD, Heliosphere, are Disney tunes, with the other six coming from Roe. The trio will celebrate its release with a gig at Kerrytown Concert House on Saturday, July 14.

Method Man: Ken Vandermark's Marker at Kerrytown Concert House

MUSIC REVIEW

Ken Vandermark's Marker at Kerrytown Concert House

Marker Space: Electric guitarists Steve Marquette and Andrew Clinkman, drummer Phil Sudderberg, and bandleader Ken Vandermark, who is in front of violinist/keyboardist Macie Stewart. Photo by Christopher Porter

Ken Vandermark is a method musician.

The Chicago-based saxophonist/clarinetist likes to construct scenarios and systems for his various bands and then write material that fits whatever methods he's devised. It's rigorous work that forces Vandermark and his musicians out of their comfort zones, but it has led to a voluminous and varied body of work that is among the most impressive in modern jazz and composition.

Vandermark's latest creation, Maker, came to Kerrytown Concert House on July 9 and ripped through a four-song, 75-minute set that touched on avant-garde jazz, funk, drones, minimalism, and Afrobeat. 

Hungry Hearts: Michigan Rattlers at Sonic Lunch

MUSIC REVIEW

Michigan Rattlers at Sonic Lunch, July 5, 2018

A sort of homecoming: Michigan Rattlers returned to Ann Arbor, the birthplace of bassist Adam Reed. Photo by Christopher Porter.

Raccoons, foxes, and hawks prey upon the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake.

But the Michigan Rattlers are most susceptible to being consumed by broken hearts, Bell's Two-Hearted, and the eternal debate about where your heart truly belongs.

Comprised of Petoskey-raised childhood friends Graham Young (guitar) and Adam Reed (upright bass), along with more recent members Christian Wilder (keyboards) and Anthony Audia (drums), the Los Angeles-based Michigan Rattlers returned to the Sonic Lunch concert series on July 5 and played 13 originals plus a cover of Leonard Cohen's "On the Level."

Young and Reed performed as a duo at Sonic Lunch last year and their close-harmony Americana was immediately striking for its beauty and simplicity. But as a quartet, Michigan Rattlers brought a honky-tonk rock 'n' roll vibe to their acoustic-guitar-based compositions.

Dream Weavers: Chirp at Top of the Park

MUSIC REVIEW

Chirp at Top of the Park, June 30, 2018

Ann Arbor jammers Chirp helped Top of the Park close its final weekend of the summer. Photo from facebook.com/chirpmusic.

I remember it; if you were a kid who grew up in Ann Arbor you do, too. The nights you spent in the hot summer air with cold lemonade, and the smell of the food trucks, the times you sat in the grass looking up at the sky, listening to bands on the main stage. It felt like a dream.

Top of the Park has been around now for 35 years and I've gone to it almost every year that I've lived in Ann Arbor. But this was the first time that I went alone to review a band. It's funny how being alone can sharpen your thinking and make you a keener observer.

By the time Chirp took the stage on June 30, the park had filled out. People stood or sat in chairs in front of the stage, while others sat in the grass or under the beer tent. Bassist Brian Long, guitarist-vocalist Jay Frydenlund, guitarist Ken Ball, and drummer John Gorine mix styles freely, touching on rock in their guitar work, jazz with the drum and bass solos, and soul through Frydenlund's voice.

Lifting Every Voice: Jazzmeia Horn at the Power Center

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Jazzmeia Horn by Jacob Blickenstaff

Jazzmeia Horn Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff.

After being introduced, Jazzmeia Horn came onto the Power Center stage on June 28 just as casual as she could be as she let us know she was new to town.

But the command performance of Betty Carter's "Tight" that followed showed Ann Arbor to be the only thing to which Horn was new.

World of Sound: Indian, zydeco & global-folk from Michigan danced off Summer Fest's final Friday

MUSIC REVIEW

K. Jones & the Benzie Playboys by Anthony Norkus

Caution, May Induce Dancing: K. Jones and the Benzie Playboys by Anthony Norkus Photography.

Even though Top of the Park was entering its final weekend on Friday, the stage was still filled with infectious summer energy thanks to the music of Sumkali, The Ragbirds, and K. Jones and the Benzie Playboys.

All of these bands are based in Michigan, but their sounds are drawn from around the world.