Just like "Heaven": Kingfisher's confident and inventive widescreen debut LP balances intimate vocals and expansive instrumentation
For the past few years, Kingfisher has balanced college life with band life. But after the University of Michigan’s spring graduation, some members will head off to other Midwestern areas while others will stick around to complete their degrees.
The band might be closing a chapter but Kingfisher’s story will continue to unfold.
“The plan is to keep going,” said Sam DuBose (vocals, lyrics, guitar). “Things will definitely change. I mean, right now we’re all like three blocks from each other. But we had the conversation a while ago about what we were going to do, and all of us want to continue. We all love this group so much.”
Unlike most college bands though, Kingfisher isn’t fond of covers.
“We’ve actually never played a cover song at a show,” said Tyler Thenstedt (bass, vocals). “It’s been original music since the get-go. I would say that’s what people sort of know us for. A lot of Ann Arbor bands are incredible, but what sets us apart is that it has always been original music.”
Adam Labeaux searches for the true meaning of courage in himself and others on Brave Face.
The folk-rock singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist explores the power of tenacity, vulnerability, and authenticity on his latest album.
“It does have a lot to do with these central themes, and these are things I tend to touch on a lot, including the human condition,” said Labeaux, who resides in Ann Arbor.
“I tend to write dark folk, and I gravitate toward this subject matter and a focal point that maybe people don’t want to look at all the time. But I always have hope, and I always feel there's positivity to come out.”
That positivity and courage shine across Brave Face’s dozen tracks, which feature earnest lyrics, passionate vocals, and ‘70s-inspired folk-rock instrumentation flavored with jazz and soul. Imagine if Labeaux formed a new supergroup with members of the E Street Band, Steely Dan, and Toto.
“I’m the first to admit that sometimes I write songs to give myself words of encouragement that I’m not getting from someone else,” said Labeaux about his fourth album.
“If nothing else, I find that when I’m at my lowest and when I’m most manic that usually it means I haven’t been writing enough. I haven’t been expressing it, and I really need to get into that space and have that cathartic moment.”
Running through July 1, the all-media show features 34 works by 27 artists in the Guild of Artists and Artisans’ storefront space. Built on a theme of “figurative artwork and body diversity,” the exhibit succeeds in offering an engaging mix of media, artistic styles, and subject matter.
A number of the works in the exhibition feature artist statements, often with compelling stories that provide depth. For example, April Shipp’s mixed-media piece The water returned Him is one of the more visually striking pieces in the exhibit, yet knowing the background of the global refugee crises and the story of one particular child who inspired it. Likewise, Jensen Ellington’s My Piece of Eden creatively combines fabric, tree limbs, and thread to connect the Biblical story of Adam’s rib to his own experience as a transgender man. Other pieces stand on their own, such as E. Ingrid Tietz’s elegant Porcelain Muses V which lets her subjects speak to each viewer individually.
Any visitor to the exhibit is likely to come away with a renewed appreciation of the diversity of the human form as well as of the artists and artworks that celebrate it. Noted local artist Nora Venturelli juried the exhibition, and she agreed to answer a few questions about it:
Jason Guenzel has a passion for exploring the cosmos with his camera.
The Michigan-based astrophotographer will appear at the Ann Arbor District Library's Downtown location at 7 pm on June 29 to discuss his love of astrophotography. Guenzel will talk about his journey to the stars, the equipment he uses, and how you can get started in this discipline, which mixes science and art. He'll also present many of his fascinating photos of the cosmos, explaining the specialized techniques he used to capture these breathtaking images.
I spoke with Guenzel ahead of his AADL appearance.
Follow the Reindeer: Hanna Pylväinen's novel tracks missionaries and herders living on the Scandinavian tundra in 1851
How do you know when an action is a mistake or a choice?
As character Risten Tomma reflects on her decision to marry Mikkol:
But was that all it was, then? You said a thing and then it all changed, you lived with another man now, someone else came into your lávvu and slept with you across the fire from your parents. There would be a new dog, and even their dogs would have to learn to get along.
Some changes are anticlimactic, while other changes are catastrophic.
The sweeping, well-paced novel is set in 1851 in the Scandinavian tundra with missionaries and reindeer herders both vying for their ways of life. Another one of the main characters, Willa, the daughter of the pastor Lars Levi Laestadius, faces numerous life-altering decisions over the course of the book. Early on "she was a kettle left at a gentle boil, and with her heat she did nothing more than make coffee or tea.” Yet, when she starts encountering Ivvár Rasti on her walks, a stronger wave begins to roil in her for him, despite the fact that he calls her “a good little báhpa nieida, good little church-girl.”
Willa steps deeper and deeper into an irreversible series of events in which:
Between the Lines: The City Lines use a mix of Americana, power-pop, and punk to explore emotional 'Memories' on second album
The City Lines’ vocalist, rhythm guitarist, and songwriter Pat Deneau links personal stories as a father, husband, firefighter, and tribal member into a perceptive collection of songs on his band’s latest album, Analog Memories.
“Particularly, I like the idea that every song—kind of like city lines—butts up to each other … and continues some sort of throughline,” said Deneau, who is a firefighter with the Ann Arbor Fire Department and a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
“I like how the first tune ‘Different This Year’ opens up with this thought like, ‘OK, a fresh start,’ and I reference [our first album] Waiting on a Win in the second line. It’s this idea of ‘I’m tired of waiting on wins; I just gotta go out and get one.’
“That feeling is carried through to the end of the record on the final song [‘Finding a Way’] where I’m singing to my daughter. The notion there is I have to be better for her and how do you get there? You just have to find a way.”
While wrestling with existential ideas on Analog Memories’ seven tracks, Deneau finds his way forward through spirited choruses, propulsive power-pop-punk instrumentation, and a touch of classic Americana twang.
“There’s a line from ‘Far Enough’ that says ‘Looking back far enough / So I can move forward,’” said Bob Zammit, The City Lines’ drummer. “If you’re going to grab a lyric and be like, ‘Here’s the creative brief for what we’re doing here after the fact,’ I think it’s that.”
The City Lines will bring their Analog Memories tracks to life on June 21 outside the Downtown Library for Make Music Day, a free musical celebration with concerts by musicians across the city on the summer solstice.
Bandmates Skott Schoonover (bass), Jason Rhoades (lead guitar), and Megan Marcoux (acoustic guitar, backing vocals), will join Deneau and Zammit for the performance.
We recently spoke to Deneau and Zammit about their backgrounds, the band’s formation, the creative process for Analog Memories, select tracks from the album, their Make Music Day performance, and upcoming plans.
Ice Capades & Identity: Caroline Huntoon’s “Skating on Mars” follows a nonbinary middle schooler trying to find their place in the world
In the new middle-grade novel Skating on Mars by Ypsilanti writer and educator Caroline Huntoon, Mars is a nonbinary figure skater who is not only navigating how to be who they are but also grieving their father and experiencing the tumult of middle school friendships.
One of Mars’ challenges is to figure out how to express themselves in different aspects of their life, from revealing their preferred name and pronouns to their mom and sister to dealing with critical peers. Even though skating has always been a refuge for them, one of their coaches pushes them to bring their own style to their skating program. After demonstrating, Dmitri clarifies his request, which Mars questions:
“See, that’s not you,” Dmitri says.
“What?” I ask.
“It was the same steps, but not what you did before. And not what you should do in your own program.”
“Okay…” I’m still not sure what he expects from me.
“You have to find yourself. And the rest will come.”
“Yeah,” I say, my voice flat and low. In my head, I’m screaming, JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO! And somewhere else altogether, I feel this horrible uncertainty about what Dmitri is telling me to do. Find myself? I’m not lost. That’s not the problem. Not really.
This issue is one for which Mars must live their way into an answer. The book chronicles their journey in first-person narration by Mars, including their perspective on their sport, friends’ betrayals, a first crush, and emotional processing.
Mars’ competitive nature sets the scene for a showdown with another skater and for pushing the gender boundaries on the ice. Whether they can manage the pressure, shift their family and friend’s understanding of who they are, and continue doing what they love become ongoing questions through the book. One thing is clear: Mars cannot chart their own path solely by themself.
AADL’s Downtown Library is hosting Huntoon for a reading, Q&A, and signing Thursday, June 15, at 2 pm.
I caught up with Huntoon for an interview.
Holistic Healing: The Prog-Rockers in Cat Lung Find Slivers of Hope and Connection on “Fragments” Album
The Ann Arbor prog-rock quartet replaced shards of disillusionment and loss with slivers of hope and connection on its sophomore album.
“I was doing a lot of the lyric writing over the pandemic, and there was a lot of stuff that was going on—societal unrest, oppression, violence, climate change—you name it,” said Diane “Impi P.” Crang, one of the band’s vocalists and a multi-instrumentalist. “There’s so much nastiness in the news, and that’s where the lyric ‘what a world’ came from.’”
That lyric repeatedly appears in Cat Lung’s insightful title track, which features guitarist Pamela “Pammy Whammy” Benetti, bassist Steven “Even Steven” Crang, and drummer-percussionist/vocalist David “Dr. David” Beauchesne with Diane “Impi P.” Crang trying to process a divisive world alongside chaotic instrumentation.
Crang sings, “What a world, what a world / What a world we’re living in / When does sanity begin? / Patience gradually wearing thin / Graciousness can be found within.”
“The music for this track was initially written by Pam about 30 years ago, and we dusted it off, polished it up, and I wrote lyrics for it. The song is an observation, as well as a plea for us all to do better—for ourselves and for each other,” said Crang, who joined the band after husband Steven Crang, Benetti, and Beauchesne met through two different craigslist ads in 2016. “The four of us are all pretty done with the ugliness in the world and hope for better days ahead. In the end, Fragments being the title of the album was one on which we could all agree.”
A Field Guild to Hannah Burr: The Ann Arbor artist creates abstract works that conjure contemplation
Hannah Burr's art seeks to foster connections, not only between the viewer and the work but also between the viewer and the universe. The Ann Arbor artist works in everything from painting and drawing to sculpture and books, but no matter the medium, Burr's art acts as a prompt for observers to consider how they relate to the world around them and beyond.
Burr's dedication to contemplative matters is perhaps best shown in her series of books, such as Contemporary Prayers to * [whatever works] and Elements: a love letter to all things everywhere, which marry aphorisms or scientific facts with abstract paintings and ask readers to observer how they feel when taking in the words, colors, and shapes on the page. Her forthcoming book, Field Guide to Ambiguity, is currently in its Kickstarter phase, and like Elements, is coming out via Fifth Avenue Press, the Ann Arbor District Library's publishing imprint. This follows a 2021 expanded and completely reworked version of Contemporary Prayers, which was published by Simon & Schuster.
Burr is one of more than 80 artists who will display her works at the West Side Art Hop, held annually in Ann Arbor's historic Old West Side. This year's Art Hop runs June 10 and 11; a map of the home/garage/yard venues can be found here, but Burr will be at 701 5th Street.
I caught up with Burr ahead of the West Side Art Hop as she preps Field Guide to Ambiguity and other projects, many of which she documents in her well-maintained blog, Good Bonfire.
Dr. Janet Gilsdorf's novel "Fever" charts a mysterious illness and a researcher's race to discover the bacteria causing it
On a getaway with a colleague to visit family in Brazil, Dr. Sidonie Royal instead finds herself in a race to save children falling ill with a mysterious disease—and she experiences grief when they do not make it. Janet Gilsdorf's novel Fever tracks Sid’s subsequent research attempts back in Michigan to find out what is causing the deaths.
As a professor emerita of epidemiology and pediatrics at the University of Michigan, Gilsdorf is the right person to write a novel on this topic. Her work involves studying pathogenic factors, molecular genetics, and the epidemiology of Haemophilus influenzae, a bacterium that causes invasive and respiratory infections in children and adults. It is this bacterium that Sid, the character in her novel, is trying to understand.
Many hurdles appear along the way for Sid. One problem consists of her belligerent lab mate, Eliot, who always seems ready with criticism. At one point, he informs Sid: