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.)

Unlocking Creativity: The 24th Annual Prison Creative Art Project Show

VISUAL ART REVIEW INTERVIEW

PCAP art - James Alexander's The Bear and Harvey Pell's Phoenix Fire

Left: Phoenix Fire by Harvey Pell. Right: The Bear by James Alexander.

It is no secret that the American prison system is harsh, socially isolating, and unequal in its treatment of minorities and the poor. For most of us, that uncomfortable acknowledgment is followed by an awkward pause and a polite change of subject. 

But visual artist and activist Janie Paul decided 24 years ago that she wasn't having it. Along with her husband, fellow activist and writer Buzz Alexander, she helped found the Prison Creative Arts Program, an ongoing project that connects men and women incarcerated in the Michigan prison system to the outside world through art. The 24th Annual PCAP Art Show, with original artworks by prison artists, opened March 20 at University of Michigan's Duderstadt Center Gallery.  

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.

Gilded Pop: Caviar Gold's "Melancholia" aims for perfection

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Caviar Gold, Melancholia

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.

From Hip-Hop to Folk-Pop: Nadim Azzam showcases his hybrid sound on a new EP

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Nadim Azzam band

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)"

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Bryce Dessner and Korde Arrington Tuttle by Pascal Gely

Bryce Dessner and Korde Arrington Tuttle by Pascal Gely.

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

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Iggy Pop by Paul McAlpine, Brixton 1986

Iggy Pop at London's Brixton Academy in December 1986. That's steam rising off his body. Photo by Paul McAlpine.

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.

Sweetness & Fight: FUBAR leader Randy Tessier steps out on his own with "Sugar Town"

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Randy Tessier

Randy Tessier Explores New Sounds and Old With Solo EP

Area music fans know Randy Tessier first and foremost as the front man for the popular local band FUBAR, but he also works as a solo artist. Five years back he released a solo album called Hold Me Close, and now he’s following that up with a new six-song EP called Sugar Town

The EP showcases Tessier’s love for a variety of musical styles, yet all feature his trademark gravelly vocals and guitar. “It’s Too Late” is a new take on old-school soul, complete with a horn section. “He Lifts Me Up” is bluesy rock, while the title song is catchy acoustic pop. 

Tessier’s songwriting here is ambitious. “Texas Blues” paints a portrait of a young woman trying to escape, while “A Child Asked Me” is an anti-war song. “Incarceration: Marquette County Jail” includes the great line, “It’s not that I’m a spineless man / it’s just that I need help.”

Personnel varies from track to track, but primary contributors to the record include Chris Benjey, keyboards, producer; Geoff Michael, drum programming, engineer, and producer; Kim French, bass; and Don Kuhli, drums and woodblocks.

Tessier answered a few questions about the new record via email:

Civic Theatre’s "Vanya" finds humor in sibling rivalry and Chekhov

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

A2CT's production on Vanya

John Harrison as Spike, Denyse Clayton as Masha, Ellen Finsh as Sonia, and Thom Johnson as Vanya. Photo courtesy Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.

Siblings always have issues.

Sometimes the older they get the testier they become, especially when their paths diverge. 

This idea became the inspiration for Christopher Durang’s Tony Award-winning play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a comedy about sibling resentments that takes some inspiration from Russian short-story writer and playwright Anton Chekhov.

Cassie Mann, who is directing a production of Vanya for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, March 14-17, said she fell in love with the play when she read it.