Harping Through Life: Peter Madcat Ruth celebrates his 70th birthday at The Ark

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Peter Madcat Ruth

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.

Polly Rosenwaike's stories give an intimate glimpse into the contexts of motherhood

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Polly Rosenwaike and her book Look How Happy I'm Making You

Author photo by Michael Lionstar.

Women who want babies. Women who do not. Women who try hard for a baby, and women who easily become pregnant. Women who lose a baby, and women who have one. 

These women populate the stories in Look How Happy I’m Making You, the debut collection by Polly Rosenwaike. Efforts to conceive and be mothers -- and the effects of those efforts on these women -- engage them. 

Rosenwaike’s stories, however, do not only center on the processes and acts of conceiving, birthing, and parenting. This collection moreover illustrates the complexities of the feelings and relationships surrounding motherhood and the wish for it. 

Rosenwaike draws inspiration from her own experiences as a mother and often works from branches of the Ann Arbor District Library. A resident of Ann Arbor, she is the fiction editor of Michigan Quarterly Review, is widely published in literary magazines, reviews books, teaches at Eastern Michigan University, and has two daughters with her partner, poet Cody Walker. 

Rosenwaike will read and discuss Look How Happy I’m Making You at Literati Bookstore Wednesday, April 3, at 7 pm. She answered questions about life in Ann Arbor and her new collection. 

Down With Blue Jeans: Tim Sendra talks bubblegum pop and the effort to preserve his brother's legacy

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Blue Jeans' Adult Hits LP and Down's Critically Acclaimed LP

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.

Tell 'Em It’s a Party: An Evening of the blues with Sugaray Rayford at Club Above

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Sugaray Rayford

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

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

The Kelseys' Pollyanna

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 
from the 
Sun sun sun 
Beating down on our neck 
So 
Look at the horizon 
Quite the panorama 
Don't you ever worry 
Miss Pollyanna 

"'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.)

"Guardians of Detroit: Architectural Sculpture in the Motor City" documents the artistry and symbolism during the city's golden age

VISUAL ART WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW

Guardians of Detroit

A collection of guardian faces from various Detroit buildings.

Due to a fortunate confluence of water, geography and entrepreneurial vision, Detroit at the end of the 19th century was poised to experience unprecedented growth. Even before the Ford Motor Company was established in 1903, Detroit was a major industrial center and transportation hub. All this commercial activity and prosperity led to a building boom of incredible proportions at a time when the most popular architectural styles were Beaux Arts, Gothic Revival, Classical Revival, and Art Deco. Each of these styles typically required extensive ornamentation and because of this, Detroit became a treasure trove of architectural sculpture. 

Jeff Morrison’s new book for Wayne State University PressGuardians of Detroit: Architectural Sculpture in the Motor City, documents these incredible features in a city that began as a small frontier fort and quickly grew to become a major metropolis and industrial titan. Morrison will be at Ann Arbor District Library's downtown location on Wednesday, March 27, at 7 pm for a presentation where he'll share more than 100 spectacular close-up pictures of architectural sculpture from throughout the city of Detroit. You will also learn about the symbolism behind the ornamentation and hear some of the untold stories of the artists, artisans, and architects involved in its creation, all drawn from the book. 

Below is a sneak peek of 10 photos from Guardians of Detroit: Architectural Sculpture in the Motor City:

Jam on It: Chirp celebrates the release of its debut studio album at The Blind Pig

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Chirp

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.

Kind of Blue LLama: Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick opens Ann Arbor's new jazz club

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Mathias Eick and his album Ravensburg

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.

57th Ann Arbor Film Festival: Take a Ride on These Trailers

FILM & VIDEO PREVIEW

57th Ann Arbor Film Fest preview

A photo of the Michigan Theater from the first Ann Arbor Film Festival in 1963. Repository: Bentley Historical Library.

When I'm interested in a new film, the first thing I do is watch the trailer. I don't read about the trailer. I rarely even read about the film. I just want to see for myself what's being offered and make a decision based on what I've viewed.

When the 57th annual Ann Arbor Film Festival announced its 2019 lineup, I immediately began digging up trailers for the hundreds of short films and features chose from more than 3,000 submissions from more than 65 countries. As the oldest avant-garde and experimental film festival in North America, the Ann Arbor Film Festival has been screening the best of cutting-edge cinema since 1963, and my survey of the trailers for this year's fest was no exception. From bright computer animations to grainy 16 mm shorts, the  57th Ann Arbor Film Festival is ready to wow once again.

The festival runs March 26-31, and below are links to each day's programming with as many trailers embedded that I could find. I'll also be updating the press section so you can keep up on the many words that the media will surely spill on this Ann Arbor institution.

57th Ann Arbor Film Festival: Trailers for Tuesday, March 26 screenings

FILM & VIDEO PREVIEW

Still from Melissa Airy's The Stories Within

Still from Melissa Airy's The Stories Within.

TUESDAY, MARCH 26 TRAILERS & EVENT LISTINGS
OPENING NIGHT: