Shine On: Timothy Monger's new album, "Amber Lantern," is full of illuminating moods

INTERVIEW PREVIEW MUSIC

Timothy

Timothy Monger's Lantern is a light that never goes out. / Photo by Doug Coombe.

Singer/songwriter Timothy Monger's career peaked in middle school.

Despite three albums during a decade-plus run with the acclaimed folk-rock band Great Lakes Myth Society and a solo career that has also produced three records, including the new Amber Lantern, Monger said the loudest cheers he's ever received was when his middle school band, All the Young Dudes, rocked his former elementary.

Perhaps Monger's fans will take that as a challenge and make some noise when he celebrates the release of Amber Lantern at The Ark on Wednesday, February 8 at 8 pm. (Caleb Dillon of Starling Electric will open.) The album is slightly more rock-oriented than his past works, but Monger also made a conscious decision to set aside his guitar at times and experiment with instruments outside his wheelhouse, such as an organ, a hurdy-gurdy, and a Pocket Piano synth, which he checked out from this library's Music Tools collection.

Monger, who grew up in Brighton and lives in Saline, recently answered questions about his new songs, crowdfunding rewards, never finishing Moby Dick, and the world's greatest elementary school rock concert.

Forgive & Reclaim: Tanner Porter's raw art-pop songs reach deep into the soul

INTERVIEW MUSIC

Kelly Jean Caldwell

The art and artistry of Tanner Porter defies boundaries. Self-portrait by the artist.

As a member of the Celtic/Quebecois/American folk-meets-classical quartet Ensoleil, cellist Tanner Porter takes old songs and makes them contemporary through creative arrangements.

But as a solo artist, Porter plays her own compositions, which are thoroughly contemporary because of the creative arrangments.

The U-M grad composes the songs and arrangements with notation software, so even though her classically steeped art-pop sounds loose and jammed with details, it doesn't happen through randomness. The woozy blend of strings, piano, wind chimes, marimba, vibraphone, harp, woodwinds, and more are carefully plotted out with specific players in mind.

Porter's first album, 2012's The Child Wrote a Poem, is written like a 15-chapter book set to music. Her latest, 2016's The Summer Sinks, is a song cycle about hurt and redemption, and the music is even more fragmented and quirky than the sounds on her debut. But Porter's flexible voice, which can sound as delicate as a bird outside your window or as ferocious as a crow cawing on your shoulder, shapes the songs through elastic Joni Mitchell-like melodies and her smart, raw lyrics keep your ears attuned to the tune.

With a bachelor in music composition and a minor in creative writing, Porter combines the two disciplines with excellent results. But she's also a visual artist, hand drawing her brand new video, "II," the second promo clip in support of The Summer Sinks.

Now splitting time between her native California and Ann Arbor, Porter talked to us about her solo work, compositional process, the "II" video, and what's on tap for Ensoleil.

Old Folk: The Ark's Ann Arbor Folk Festival turns 40

HISTORY MUSIC

Ann Arbor Folk Festival

Leo Kottke's forehead graced the poster for the 18th edition of the Ann Arbor Folk Festival.

History is a mystery, even when you have direct access to media coverage of an event.

The first Ann Arbor Folk Festival was held June 13, 1976, headlined by John Prine and Leon Redbone. The show was hosted by the Power Center and, as always, it was to benefit The Ark, which was just 11 years old at that point and still in its original location, a house at 1421 Hill St.

Doug Fulton’s June 14, 1976, Ann Arbor News review of that first fest really only covers the early part of the evening -- newspaper print deadlines, you know -- and Prine and Redbone are mentioned with no commentary.

But Fulton did write a sentence that would reappear -- in slightly altered forms -- through much of The Ark’s existence: “The occasion was a benefit for the Ark, one of the few remaining 'coffee-houses' in the country still specializing in folk music of all kinds, and lately in financial trouble.”

In fact, The Ark could have just changed its name to Financial Trouble since the venue was constantly in jeopardy through the mid-'80s until this 1986 article declared otherwise: "The Ark No Longer Needs The Festival To Stay Afloat".

Since that first festival, and two moves later, The Ark is one of the most respected and well-oiled folk- and roots-music concert venues in the country, though the nonprofit still counts on the Ann Arbor Folk Festival for part of its operating revenue. This year’s edition, held January 27 and 28 at Hill Auditorium, has one of the festival’s biggest lineups yet, featuring headliners Kacey Musgraves and Jenny Lewis on Friday and the Indigo Girls, Margo Price, and Kiefer Sutherland (yes, him) on Saturday. (If you're somehow still undecided about going, The Ark has also compiled playlists for night one and night two of the fest.

But if the festival started in 1976, why is this weekend’s celebration its 40th, instead of the 42nd?

It's Dark Down by the River: Kelly Jean Caldwell Band's cutting alt-country odes

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Kelly Jean Caldwell

The Kelly Jean Caldwell Band makes you laugh to slow down the crying. Photo by Michelle McNulty via the band's Facebook page.

The leader of the Kelly Jean Caldwell Band is constantly juggling creative endeavors, be it leading the alt-country band behind her name, playing in the occult-metal group The Wiccans, or raising two little ones.

“My kids are going crazy right now,” Caldwell wrote in an email to Pulp. “I have a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old and they are freaks.”

Caldwell was fending off the kids while answering questions to preview her concert at the Elks Pratt Lodge in Ann Arbor on Friday, January 27. Her third album, Downriver, was recorded six years ago, but it finally came out late last year on The Outer Limits Lounge, a new label run by her husband, John Szymanski (vocalist Johnny Hentch from long-running garage-rockers The Hentchmen).

The album’s delay was due to a number of reasons, not the least of which is Caldwell and band bassist Brian Blair divorced, then she got remarried to Szymanski, with whom she has the two rugrats who helped her with this interview. After a break that allowed Caldwell to focus on family life, she eventually called up her old bandmates -- including her ex -- and the Kelly Jean Caldwell Band was born again.

On the surface, Downriver’s music sounds familiar enough to label it alt-country, but underneath the twangs are dark and humorous lyrics delivered by Caldwell’s powerful voice. She brings real personality and presence to the songs, elevating them above their rootsy origins. The tunes were written when former Ann Arborite Caldwell was living downriver with Blair, and the album is a chronicle of their time together and the eventual dissolution of their marriage.

Roundup: Ann Arbor Blues Society, Poet Keith Taylor & Washtenaw Reads

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SINGING THE BLUES AGAIN: "Ann Arbor has an incredibly rich history and tradition when it comes to the blues," James Partridge told MLive -- and he's right, from the Blind Pig's regular booking of big names in its early years to the establishment of the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969. Partridge's new nonprofit, the Ann Arbor Blues Society, is trying to continue A2's blues tradition by bringing the music to senior centers, schools, and local venues, but its long-term goal is downright grand: to revive the Ann Arbor Blues Festival, which was last held in 2006. (➤ MLive)

FOR THE BIRDS: U-M adjunct Keith Taylor and Ann Arbor artist Tom Pohrt have teamed up for a new book of poems and illustrations that meditate on nature. The 49 poems that comprise The Bird-while, which is part of Wayne State University's Made in Michigan Writers Series, is Taylor's 16th collection of verse, though not his first to explore the natural world. Nature has always been an important part of Taylor's work; check out "The Day After an Ice Storm." Literati will host the book launch for The Bird-while on Friday, January 27 at 7 p.m. (➤ Wayne State University Press)

200 CENTS OF SENSE: This year’s Washtenaw Reads book selection is $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer. The authors are coming to Rackham Auditorium on Tuesday, February 7, and the Ann Arbor District Library is hosting several events related to the book. Get the full scoop here: (➤ AADL)


Christopher Porter is a Library Technician and editor of Pulp.

Roundup: Nomo, Washi Con, A2 Monster Record Show

PREVIEW FILM & VIDEO MUSIC

YES, ’MO: It’s been 7 years since the Ann Arbor-formed band Nomo released its last album, Invisible Cities (Ubiquity Records), but a few photos posted to the avant-Afro-gamelan-funk band’s Facebook page in August indicate a new record’s been made. We reached out to the band for info on when it might be released and haven’t heard back, but perhaps all secrets will be revealed when Nomo plays the Blind Pig on Saturday, January 21. And even though Nomo has been quiet for a long while, the band's core nine musicians have kept busy. Most prominently, saxophonist-leader Elliot Bergman moved to Chicago and released two pop-dub albums as Wild Belle (which includes his sister, Natalie) and formed the experimental Metal Tongues, whose sound is built on his hand-made kalimbas with synths and drums. Meanwhile, trumpeter Justin Walter has released a number of recordings under his own name, including the great 2013 LP Lullabies & Nightmares (Kranky), and saxophonist Dan Bennett leads his own jazz groups. (➤ Blind Pig event) (➤ Nomo)

Weird & Intoxicating: The Sixth Annual Ragtime Extravaganza

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Erin Morris & Her Ragdolls

Into the valley of Erin Morris & Her Ragdolls.

If the American ideal is defined by the coming together of various cultures to create a unique whole, then ragtime is the country's first musical example of that worldly synthesis.

Developed in African-American communities in the 1890s, the music combines African rhythms and syncopations, European harmonies, marches, and a Latin tinge to create a sonic brew that the King of Ragtime, Scott Joplin, described as "weird and intoxicating."

Detroit loved that weird intoxication and was a hub for ragtime during the music's peak period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries before it gave way to jazz. In fact, the Remick Music Shell on Belle Isle is named for Jerome Remick, one of the biggest publishers of ragtime music. (Read a history of Detroit ragtime here.)

Now, a hundred years after ragtime's apex, and 47 miles east of the Remick Music Shell, the sixth the annual Ragtime Extravaganza aims to recreate the look, feel, and sound of the music's classic era at the Michigan Theater on January 21.

Extravaganza organizer William Pemberton has always loved ragtime music and founded the River Raisin Ragtime Revue in 2002. He’s served as its president -- and tuba player -- ever since.

The Revue has grown to be one of southeast Michigan’s most respected performance groups, featuring musicians from across the state, including professors from Central Michigan and the University of Michigan’s music departments. And the Ragtime Extravaganza is the Revue’s biggest event each year -- and by far "the most fun," Pemberton said.

“I love that it takes place in a 1920s vaudeville house," he said, "and the whole idea of it is to re-create a feeling of the golden age of American entertainment: the ragtime, the vaudeville, and the burlesque eras. And it’s just perfect and you can just feel the energy in the house.”

Roundup: Matthew Dear, All Hands Active & Tanner Porter

PREVIEW FILM & VIDEO MUSIC

NEW KICKS: When a musician gets asked to compile a mix for the DJ-Kicks series, it’s like a baseball player making the All-Star Game. Since 1993, the German !K7 label has had some of the world’s biggest electronic music artists, including Carl Craig, Hot Chip, Actress, and 54 others create DJ-set albums -- ones that still sell really well even though virtually every music website offers approximately 273,000 mixes to download for free.

Now it’s Matthew Dear’s turn to boot-up a mix, and the Ann Arbor artist and co-founder of Ghostly International is celebrating his DJ-Kicks album with a party at the Blind Pig on Friday, January 20. (UPDATE: Fellow Ghostly star Shigeto has been added to the gig.)

Dear will be DJing and dropping cuts from the 57th DJ-Kicks comp, which includes his new song, “Wrong With Us,” plus 24 more jams from the likes of Simian Mobile Disco, Pearson Sound, and Audion (aka Dear’s more dance-oriented alter ego).

Not familiar with Ghostly International or its sister label, Spectral Sound? If you’re an Ann Arbor District Library card holder, you can download almost everything the labels have released, free of charge, including many Dear and Audion classics. (➤ !K7) (➤ Blind Pig) (➤ AADL’s Ghostly/Spectral collection)

Sing for the Moment: Meredith Monk's "On Behalf of Nature"

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Meredith Monk

Meredith Monk leans in On Behalf of Nature. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

Experimental vocalist and composer Meredith Monk did not make a hip-hop record. But a prime inspiration for her 2016 album, On Behalf of Nature (ECM) is repurposing, the same creative construct that informed early hip-hop artists, who created beats and melodies from fragments of sampled sounds.

But Monk's decision to use repurposed things -- musical ideas and material objects -- was also a metaphorical extension of On Behalf of Nature’s main theme. As Monk wrote in the album’s liner notes about her compositional process:

"As I began working on the music for On Behalf of Nature, I asked myself the question: 'How would one make an ecological art work, one that didn’t make more waste in the world?' What came to mind was the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss and his notion of bricolage: the process of assembling or making something from what is already at hand. In pre-industrial societies, one object could function in many different ways by an act of imagination."

Taking incomplete phrases and themes from her notebook, Monk assembled these fragments into what became On Behalf of Nature, a wordless meditation on our fragile ecosystem. In the age of climate change -- and climate deniers -- the piece shines a solar-powered spotlight on the issue without resorting to didacticism.

On Behalf of Nature isn’t just a recording, though; it’s also a full theatrical performance that the Meredith Monk Vocal Ensemble, which also includes instrumental musicians, has performed around the world since 2013. But to make sure the live performance doesn't pull focus from the music, the choreography includes simple gestural movements, plain recycled outfits -- “We did not buy anything for the costumes. Everything was [old clothes] used again and re-created into a new form,” Monk told Pulp -- and a minimalist stage show to accompany a musical landscape that’s more expansive than what’s heard on the CD.

A professional singer since 1965, Monk’s avant-garde influence is felt in modern artists as diverse as Joanna Newsom, Maja Ratkje, and Björk, who told Monk she heard Dolmen Music (1981) when she was about 16.

Now 74, Monk’s extended technique vocals, which include all sorts of whoops, clicks, trills, and primordial utterances, are still stunning.

We talked to Monk before her Ann Arbor residency, which begins with a Penny Stamps Lecture Series talk on January 17 at the Michigan Theater and culminates in a performance of On Behalf of Nature on January 20 at the Power Center, sponsored by University Musical Society.

Roundup: Collage Concert, Emergent Effect, and Mozart Mania

INTERVIEW PREVIEW VISUAL ART MUSIC

ALL MIXED UP: The annual Collage Concert is the starting line for U-M’s bicentennial year celebrations. The wide range of School of Music, Theater, and Dance (SMTD) ensembles coming together on January 14 at 8 p.m. in Hill Auditorium will provide a continuous sonic collage of styles to represent the many diverse elements that have combined to shape U-M for the past 200 years. (➤ SMTD)

RESIDENTIAL EFFECT: Ypsi Alloy Studios is teaming up with the Ann Arbor Art Center for an exhibit they’re calling Emergent Effect. Sixteen resident Ypsi Alloy artists are represented, with the exhibit focusing on their “intersecting work and common voice,” according to curators Ilana Houten, Elize Jekabson, and Jessica Tenbusch. The opening reception is free and goes down January 13 from 6-9 p.m., and Emergent Effect runs through January 28. (➤ Ann Arbor Art Center)

MOZART MONTH: There are more Mozart-related concerts in January every year for one reason: The powdered-wig wonder was born on this month’s 27th day in 1756. One such event in Ann Arbor is the A2SO’s 21st annual birthday bash (which we profiled here) on Saturday, January 14. But if you can’t make it to that performance, drop by the library on Sunday, January 15 at 2 p.m. for a screening of an all-Mozart concert performed in New York City's Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in May 2013. The music includes Piano Trio in B-flat major, K. 502; Horn Quintet in E-flat major, K. 407; and Viola Quintet in C major. (➤ AADL)


Christopher Porter is a Library Technician and editor of Pulp.