Monday, March 27, 2017

More Co-Album-Reviewing (with Chris Bathgate) featuring Audra Kubat's 'Mended Vessel'


Chris Bathgate is getting into the game of writing album reviews. I'm honored to have sort of opened up the bombay door and held his hand while parachuting out into the experimental skies of this enterprise. We've been writing letters back and forth about Audra Kubat's Mended Vessel for almost five weeks now. 

This song is called "Midnight Train"




Chris! 

The release of your OWN music has now begun to overlap with our letters about Audra. By the time I hear back from you, the vernal equinox will be here. I'm eager to get back out into my own garden and start growing things, again. Meanwhile, I hear you're harvesting truffles?
This is my fifth or sixth time revisiting 'Mended Vessel,' but I recall, vividly, that "Midnight Train" was an immediate standout, because of what she's doing with her voice. It crests, and then it stretches, and then it kind of drapes and elegantly drags its way into a subtle vibrato. These are my favorite kinds of choruses, the kinds of choruses that just don't sound like typical choruses!! 

The melody lilts and almost wobbles until it sails forward. Her voice might be more whispery on other tracks, but it's so full on this one... "Midnight Train," just like your new song "Northern Country Trail," is something meant for traipsing, for slow hikes, preferably illuminated only delicately by a yellow dawn or a red-orange dusk. Acoustic music is always my favorite thing to listen to in the darkest days of winter, because they bring me back out to the warmness of an outdoorsy vibe, which is certainly the case here. But let's talk about those quiet bongos... Bongos? Congas? What am I hearing in there...? I love the tender chimes that follow the first chorus, embossed by that pulse-slowing piano. If we choreographed a very slow, dance-like walk, each step would match up with those pianos or those chimes. It would be like the music video for "Billie Jean," only... in a forest, and with patches of dirt or moss lighting up as we stepped upon them... Have I gone off the rails? What better track to do it with...

Also, I'm smitten with, again, the subtlety... The subtlety of that guitar that comes in before the final chorus... What does that add, for you? 

Tell me everything,
-jeff

"the bittersweet-ness" 

Jeff!

It’s true, a new song of my own is in the world, it feels wonderful. It's mixed with the joy I feel, not only from this experience of writing to you about this music, but from this 5th track in particular. Midnight Train raises the bar of this whole record. It’s winding elements transpires the intelligence of those that came before it. I feel its production is flawless. Its acrobatic melody is innovative, ecstatic, and nuanced. This song gives me goose bumps. 

It’s no surprise you’re feeling this song's careful languid march with the water drop like timbre of the percussion.  With the addition of the lyric’s imagery: the swell of feeling in this song’s characters, the metaphorical and physical movement, the dawn breaking, I’m right there with you feeling like I’m pushed forward, out of civil twilight. 

This song is perfectly adorned by its supporting musical arrangement.  The conga’s, the bells, the piano, the ethereal drones off in the distance, all create a mood I’ve yet to feel on Mended Vessel so far. Though, these elements aren’t making their first appearance on this record. I think that speaks to the beautiful math of this songs construction. 

That new mood I feel on Midnight Train could accommodate such a woodland spectacle as you're imagining in a video. Though, something is more bittersweet in Midnight Train for me. A bittersweet-ness that invigorates the soul.  Though, considering your vision, I’m left to question if light-up moss and bittersweet-ness can co-exist. Though, I think Billie Jean contains bittersweet-ness so I’m drawn to say yes. 

I, like you, love the subtlety of that supporting electric guitar in at 1:54. There’s a bit of hesitation here. There’s a little blip, a little hiccup, in the delivery of this joyously mid-range, roomy electric melody. While I appreciate the musicianship of a slick delivery, I’m always more drawn to humanness, rough edges, and hearing fingers and picks in addition to strings. This kind of move is very much in line with my own production aesthetic.  

Though, there’s some conjecture here.  I’m assuming that in production of Mended Vessel, with multiple takes of this particular part, Audra and crew chose this specific take over one that had a more consistent volume. Though, for all I know the part is designed exactly that way. It’s quite possible they chose this particular moment for its accuracy, which is designed to seem inaccurate. Whichever path got them here, I’m thankful. It reminds me of the line “The imperfect is our paradise”, from Wallace Steven’s “Poems of our Climate”. Imperfection adds a specific kind of detail, one that has impact on the listener. I’ve learned from the production of J Dilla, and broadly through Jazz: when things fall out rhythm it’s human nature to pay more attention. 

best,
-Chris 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Public Pool's Punk Rock Roots ~ (Fundraiser Concert Saturday ft. John Doe & Exene)

L.A. punk icons John Doe and Exene Cervenka (famous for valiant tenures in the band X) recently fell in love with the character/vibe of Detroit, flourishing with their performance at El Club last August and crescendoing, now, with their swift return to our town, this Saturday, at Jam Handy. More info

This rare acoustic performance from members of X is a show of support for a unique and authentic art gallery. This month marks seven years that the Public Pool Art Space has been operating on Caniff, just past Gallagher, curating engaging exhibitions and community-building events like potlucks, dance parties, picnics and "Writers Buffets."

photo courtesy of Public Pool


Partnering with Jam Handy and being endorsed by Doe/Exene only seems fitting to me, because I've always thought of this gallery as having the energy of a rock 'n' roll venue. "Right...," said Public Pool co-founder Steve Hughes, "but we're not a rock 'n' roll venue; still, I like to think of us as kind of having punk rock roots. I mean more so in the idea of what punk meant, in terms of individuality, doing shit on your own terms, and forging your own way in the world, but also in terms of: community! I think punk was about being part of a community, and I think (Public Pool) serves that function. It's a place where people can hang out and be with people who have similar interests and who are creative and thoughtful about the world."

A Wild Gift for Detroit: John Doe & Exene (acoustic set)
at Jam Handy ~ A Benefit for Public Pool
featuring DJ James Insight, Yada Yada, Supercoolwicked, the Vitas, DJ Ryan Spencer
Saturday
7pm
2900 E. Grand Blvd
$15
More info




The community-centered motivation of Public Pool is demonstrated in the way it opens its doors and invites the neighbors of Hamtramck to enter and acquaint themselves not just with local artists, but with artists from around the world, such as John Doe and Exene, while also giving them a chance to discover the dynamic DIY spirit that thrives in the hearts/minds of the artists and wonderful weirdos living, creating, and showcasing just across the street from Al-Haramine.

Public Pool "has something for (visual/performing) artists and for writers," Hughes said. Hughes wears several hats, along with co-managing an art gallery with Public Pool's board, he is likely best known as founder/editor of Detroit's longest running zine Stupor, for which he became a Kresge Fellow back in 2010.

A talented and sharply imaginative writer, Hughes began collaborating with a different artist on each of Stupor's issues back in 2006, which led to the institution of the Good Tyme Writers Buffet, which invites local writers/poets to prepare a piece that springs from the themes presented by each successive exhibition featured on the walls of the gallery. The Buffet was awarded a Knights Art grant in late 2013.


photo courtesy of Knight Foundation
So, Public Pool, with Good Tyme Writers Buffet, is able "to create a hub for both of those communities (artists & writers)," Hughes said.

But just like Hughes said earlier in this interview, this isn't a rock 'n' roll venue, even if it might feel like it, when you're there... It isn't a bar or a venue or a nightclub. So that means the money isn't exactly rolling in... Keeping a gallery open is always an uphill battle, dependent not entirely on the whims of the economy, but more so on the support of said gallery's surrounding community.

That's where you come in...

Saturday's Public Pool fundraiser at Jam Handy, which, as we've said, features John Doe and Exene, is a way to ensure that Public Pool can continue curating cutting-edge/thought-provoking shows and filling that void of a writer's society... (perhaps something like the Motor City's answer to the Algonquin Round Table, or some other fitting equivalent).

The Public Pool cooperative was paying rent out of their own pockets for the first 5+ years, but the grant money they received could only carry them so far. "Paying money into a space is noble, but you can't do it forever," said Hughes. "Especially if you really don't have any money..."

"I always say that the philosophy of (the Public Pool art) space is: if we're not having fun doing it, then it's just not worth doing. I've been doing it for seven years and it hasn't quit being a good time, yet."

One big help, as the Metro Times noted earlier this week, is that musician Chris Peters recently joined Public Pool's board. Peters is a member of Racehorses Are Resources, and also started flourishing Hughes own "noisy/jazz/chaos" project, the Stupor Sound Experience. Anyhow, Peters happens to be well acquainted with John Doe, as well as, recently, Exene, and thus, Hughes noted, "(Peters) has been able to bring a lot to the table... We've got some great headliners, now. I think they can pull (the fundraising) off, just the two of them... We'll see."

More info

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

More Letters with Chris Bathgate about Audra Kubat's 'Mended Vessel'

This is a song called "Loving Arms" by Audra Kubat. It's the fourth track on Mended Vessel, which came out last last year. 

This....is a continued correspondence, between myself here in Detroit and singer/songwriter Chris Bathgate, who's writing to us from the mountains of northern California. I have to reiterate how excited I am to be experiencing, along with you, the first actual album review penned by Bathgate. Likely the first of more to come...



Hey Chris
We had the 4th Annual Hamtramck Music Festival here recently... You remember the ol' Blowouts, yes? I have to say, coming from that explosion of live music, the avalanching-lineup of bands, to then sit down and write a letter to you, sir..., makes me feel a little wistful, so consider this a Wish You Were Here type of postcard, in letter form...

I think that the Track 4 position is crucial. Track 3's are usually singles. Track 1's are always powerful. Final tracks' are emotional, or, hopefully...conclusive. Track 4, as I've perceived it, is free to be a wildcard. It is the opening of Act II. The mannerisms are laid down, the aesthetic's veil has been drawn across the soundscape... The tone is set. We're listening to "Loving Arms," now...

Things pare back here. After the comparative energy of the first three, this one feels like the hush of entering a backroom, something the size of a cellar maybe, where a door shuts securely behind you shunting out any cacophony. It's Audra and her guitar, and she's being very honest with herself in front of you... This song, almost more than the first three, demonstrates what I consider to be the album's most winning quality: a fearlessness to be vulnerable. We've also talked about how this album's theme involves "searching..." be that externally or internally. In this song, she comes to a peace with the possibility, however scary, that she may not find the "place" she's been looking for... But why is she comforted in that confession? Because she's got this love that she's singing about...a love that takes her in her arms... 

Even then, after she returns to a state of questioning herself, all the while cognizant of the fact that a lingering dizzy of questions would mean the loss of some other opportunity... Maybe the opportunity at love? I want that opportunity. I want arms around me comforting me the way she sings it here... Similar to the way I want my own kind of "Sunday Kinda Love" when I hear Etta James sing it...

Also, what is that coming in at the end? An accordion? Talk about that, Chris, and what that sound, the way it feels like a gravelly kind of breath or sigh....what it adds to the final chorus!......

more later my friend
-jeff

"You know I have a pre-disposition for songs that develop over time, songs that move into fullness"


Hey Jeff, 

I do remember those ol’ Blowouts, I'm glad to hear you’re immersed in music.  Thanks for the sentiment of your post card wistfulness, the feeling is mutual.  I wish I could teleport back and forth. It’s been a super strange week up here on the mountain, we’ve gone from 6 inches of snow at 2,000 ft to 65 degrees and sunny.  The pile of firewood is currently lying fallow. 

On Loving Arms I see and feel this 2nd act as well.  The sparseness of this songs opening, the roomy tones of a far placed mic, and Audra’s potent and silky voice reinforce, for me, these thoughts you’ve shared about powerful vulnerableness. I hear in the first moments, in this purpohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCODcuOx978seful confession, lines delivered in a tone that makes me believe them to be truth. It makes me have to check myself.  I think that’s a thing I experience when I witness vulnerability, I have to look inward to see when and if I have the capacity for that bravery.  

I’m entranced by this songs soft build, which has to do with this accordion you’re wondering about…culminating in the feeling of being surrounded by the time the guitar slows to its gently windfall exit. 

You know I have a pre-disposition for songs that develop over time, songs that move into fullness. The ethereal gossamer wash rising up beneath Loving Arms gives me a “let go” feeling. Maybe its because I feel surrounded, wrapped even. The effect of this kind of arrangements is super enjoyable for me, it helps me integrate the song into my own life.  This song has that design. Like you’ve waxed, the stark small room of this songs opening is opened by a gossamer ethereal wash that rises out the corners in the 2nd verse. The entrance of the accordion at 2:03gives me goose bumps, and draws me deeper in to the atmosphere this song grows into. The song’s rounded summit drops just after the last chorus, the guitar slowing as it exits. 

Like a perfect breeze, just for moment, this fourth track on Mended Vessel is felt in its absence just as much as in its presence. 

-
Chris 

Listen to a live recording of this song from about five years ago, here 


_______________________________________________


Hopefully you're still reading... 



Because I still have Audra Kubat-related news to share...
The Gaelic League Irish American Club of Detroit will host an event co-coordinated by Kubat to advance the Women’s March on Washington’s “10 Actions / 100 Days” campaign... 

On Wednesday, March 22, local musicians will come together to share songs of peace and protest. Attendees can not only enjoy the inspirational performances of the artists listed below, but they can take action: blank postcards, writing utensils, addresses, and example letters will be provided. The organizers ask guests to bring several stamps to share. There will be light snacks and a cash bar.  Click here for more info, and check out the lineup below. 



Friday, March 17, 2017

Bobbi & Weed - Lost Soul Music


I'm particularly excited to write about this band, because they're literally buried treasure.

They aren't playing a release show anytime soon; they aren't promoting themselves to you over social media, and there isn't any other blog sharing their sounds yet...

Lost Soul Music is the debut album from Bobbi & Weed  and it came out last month on a new local DIY label called Sophisticated/Professional Records. 

Lost Soul Music is a time machine and a wormhole at the same time. Nostalgia pangs from tumbling country ballads and harmonica-hazed folk ditties will percolate, but there’s also more cerebral, and cinematic sweeps of baroque-inclined experimental pop trips, and psychedelia-splashed singer/songwriter odes. Bobbi and Weed have a knack for a toe-tapping beat and a wistful melody, but they also seem to really love the dustier instruments that the too-cool rock kids have left behind for their fancy fenders. There’s a heavy heart and a strange soul, here… There’s an uncanny charm here. There’s Bobbi and Weed…, here!

Produced and written by Tom Bahorski (Pink Lightning, Irrelephant, The Ashleys) and Steve Olshove (The Ashleys), this debut album marks the completion of the first collaboration between a pair of new living mythic music makers, embracing the mythic monikers of Bob Bobbi and “Tumblin’” Tom Weed.  The eclectic duo explores themes of finding acceptance and surrender to the backdrop of sparse acoustic guitars and psychedelic swirls of ghostly Motown inspired harmonies.

Lost Soul Music is psychedelic blend of cosmic-country and singer-songwriter craftsmanship; the album marks their first fresh collection of new material together since the release of their 2013 single, "The Lonely Bob Bobbi (Main Theme)"

Parking lots and burned out lights 
Watch the willows as they weep 
Trains of empty cars, shadows bright and bleak 
And the sounds from tuesday evening 
Are on my mind 

Bobbi & Weed set an easygoing pulse. They let the richness of pianos and twangy acoustic guitars reach their deserved capacities of evocation. It's a record for the ponderers at dusk, the twilight strollers, the early morning searchers; it's a record for slow rocking chair rests and calmed appraisals of a horizon glowing with out-of-reach-adventures. The Band. Leon Russell. 1970's Dylan. Portions of Van Morrison. Some Allman-vibes too... This is the kind of country you go to when you need soulful restoration.

And I'm streaming the whole damn album on this post because I want more souls to join me in this country. This quirky, mellow, groovy country.

Bobbi & Weed. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

More Letters about Audra Kubat's 'Mended Vessel'

Chris Bathgate and I continue to correspond with letters, each contemplating a single track of Audra Kubat's 2016 album, Mended Vessel







Hey again Chris.

It's a Sunday morning as I write this, and a winter's sun can't warm up the chill here at ground level. Between other writing assignments, I keep looking forward to returning to Mended Vessel and corresponding with you. What's new with you this week?

So, with "September," you're kinda carried through the fog of an austere opening, and eventually we're picked up by what's resonating with me most, the percussion: kicking in after the first verse; it mimicked, for me, something like a locomotive's chugging propulsion. The wistful lyrical ideas of bringing her "dear sweet love home again..." made it feel like a lost 19th century shanty tune or lovelorn Appalachian folk song. I have to remark, again, upon the suggestion of supernatural elements when she sings about "an ancient call..." that rings out. But let's also highlight the emotional waves of her voice, when she sings about the "laughter" that they share, it breaks with poignancy.

"September" stands out because of that electric guitar getting more space to surf and shred, something akin to a Mark Knopfler-esque understated flamboyancy... This tune could stand alone with Audra's acoustic playing, but I'm curious to hear what you think the electric guitar, paired with that piano, add to the atmosphere....

more soon,
-jeff

~~~~~~~

Hey again to you, Jeff

Yes, this album has been weaving its way into my thoughts daily; its been the soundtrack for spring up here on the mountain.  There’s usually just pair of hummingbirds at the feeder in the winter, there’s many now. They zoom in and out of astonishing dog fights while waiting for their turn to feed. Otherwise things are pretty mellow up here on the mountain. Today I’m installing a galvanized top line onto a 6 foot fence, and then hiking into the woods to do some maintenance on a pelton wheel.

I’m right in line with you on this song, the feeling this is a lost song, from long ago. This minor country lilt elicits all the murder ballads and country tragedies I’m heard so far.  Especially in this “austere opening”, which carries in the minor centric verse.

I’m also in agreement with the thought that the song could be just Audra’s acoustic and her voice, its a great folk song with a wonderful vocal melody.  I think the instrumentation nuances you are bringing out are, again, nuanced and unobtrusive. I’m wondering how the production conversations for this record went prior to, and during, its recording. The song has the sweeping drones of the introduction, akimbo finger picking guitars, the rhythmic piano accompaniment, the shuffling drums, which each take small turns stepping out of the roll of supporting Audra’s voice.

To answer your specific questions about this pairing of electric guitar, piano and the atmosphere.  My favorite moment of the song is actually at 2:12, when these supporting elements break free in their own. As if replying to Audra’s voice almost. Again, they break out in the final chorus to make the conversation feel complete.  I’m wondering though, what would pronounced inversions sound like in this song. As a songwriter I’m wondering how that could be implemented to add even more zoomed in detail, but that wish might undo the very thing I appreciate about this songs unobtrusive instrumentation.

best,
-Chris


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Click here for more on Chris Bathgate, re: his new album 'Dizzy Seas' (out May 19)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Footsteps Drift Away - Chris Bathgate's "Northern Country Trail"

Chris Bathgate
photo by John Hanson

I thought I'd know exactly what to write when I got to the page...

Some songs you don't want to impugn with description. You don't want someone to reduce what should remain an ineffable feeling into cold compartments through blog-font hieroglyphs... But one of these days I'm going to stop being flat-out astonished by what Chris Bathgate puts out... I think that day will come, anyhow. Maybe it won't....



His voice on this recording, it sounds as though his very feet are definitively off the floor as he sings into the microphone, like his aura, at least here on the recording, defies gravity. Or maybe I'm floating... ?

*You know..., on that sidenote, I'll never forget that time someone asked me, with sincere curiosity, whether or not I took drugs before writing my essays about music. They deduced that because of all of the purple adjectives and the way a sentence can so sweetly slide around in cadence like dewdrops on a curved palm leaf lilted out into space.... But the answer is: never. No actual drugs. Just music. It's just that sometimes my discourse reads as though I'm immersed. Too immersed. Yes, totally too immersed. ...to where I get carried away with the tidal force of a specific piece of music.

Man..., "Northern Country Trail" isn't a piece of music, its its own domain. It's a realm. A headspace, onto itself, with out boundary. No, wait... I'm going too far. The song is taking me too far...
The guitars flirt with this sloth-like lurch upwards, outwards, steadily extricating from the gossamer confines of the mesosphere, the loops and layers surround the listener with an imperceptible vapor that evokes this oh-so-gradually onset of what seems like weightlessness.

It is a very simple song, really. But each sonic layer, like a brush stroke of individual intensities, denotes its own variation on an emotion, from meditative serenity, to anxious panic, from renewed determination to pensive dread, a softly simmering drone at its ground level, the mist of a piano as it rises, the fog of reverb and distortion and the twang acoustic guitar as you get to eye level, and above...higher up there, that voice, which has always had this ghostly quality to it, despite how rich and resonant and full-hearted his voice sounds, it is ... (due in part to the productions nifty panning)... always had this elemental quality something that.... something that defies description. (Which is where I started this essay...)

This song takes its time. It wants you to catch your breath. It's a head-clearer that somehow clusters the whole of human existence into its purview for consideration. Ya know... that's almost what all great Chris Bathgate songs usually do...

I'm off to re-loop this song and start floating around my living room, s'more....

Chris Bathgate's new album, Dizzy Seas comes out May 19 via Quite Scientific 



Thursday, March 9, 2017

RHC #MiGov2018

The beginnings of a campaign are inherently inspiring. A fresh face and a fresh voice announces categorical determination to help, to change, to push things forward, to fix, to ameliorate, to offer ideas of progress and civic refurbishment.

Last year, I wrote about Ryan Henry Cox because he was on my music beat. He's a singer/songwriter and DIY producer who put out his own album, under the moniker of The Good Things.

Ryan Henry Cox is running for Governor and, I hate to indulge in anything resembling hyperbole, but I've never heard any candidate talk, act, or think like this guy...


Ryan's website is live... He's embraced the brand of "GoverNerd"

Says Ryan:
"The odds are stacked quite highly against me and should be obvious to all that it is highly improbable that I win the position of Governor. But I will run and I will run hard and do all I can to, at the very least, effect change in the policies that regulate the operations of our society and lives of our people..."

I sat down with him and realized almost immediately that he's no politician. He's not a Democrat, he's not a Republican, but he comes at the issues like a data analyst, his eyes and his mind are trained to find patterns in every situation, in any scenario, and he's wonkishly found a way to apply that to the enterprise of ameliorating political, social and domestic policies. Ryan Henry Cox wants to run for Governor of Michigan in 2018, and he's presenting himself as an Independent. What he really is, is an Informationist. 

Outside of just being a local musician, Ryan is a father, a teacher, and a bit of a DIY tech-guru. If I could tell you anything about what Ryan does, it is this:      He figures things out. He sees the entirety of the world, each circumstance, each social interaction, and all this swirl of varying moral and ethical philosophies and quandaries as ....a system... A system with patterns and variables, where the solution is the most efficient arrangement, the most equal accommodation, for both sides, for all sides...

Ryan isn't coming at this with any agenda. Name any of the most iconic politicians of the last two years' worth of news coverage and you can whittle the way they've been framed (or even the way they've framed themselves) as a composite of philosophies and proverbially axes to grind...

Ryan isn't crusading. He sees that Michigan needs him, and he wants to jump in and analyze the hell out of everything that's not measuring up... What are the variables and how can the equation satisfy the typical desires of: bolstering education, strengthening the economy, and assuring health/well-being for the state's citizens.

Ryan wants to be challenged. He wants to meet voters. He wants to meet politicians. He wants to meet every community. Ryan doesn't want to make a speech. He wants to know how he can basically renovate Michigan's greater household, from the basement to the shingles on the roof. Something about helping people brings the utmost determination and passion out of this guy... Ask him about himself, the things he does... his songs, his teaching, or even about how he volunteers to teach young soccer players how to play goalie...and he'll kinda shrug it off. Talk to him about what can be done to improve our state's Government, and a fresh fire lights up his eyes....

But that's just the impression I got from one cup of coffee with him....

Are you curious to learn more? Visit: http://www.migov2018.com/  

Candidate and Campaign 101 - Running for Local Office
Training and Panel Discussion
Saturday, March 11th>>>>>

Hosted by the Macomb Young Democrats and the Michigan Democratic Party

Please register here

Saturday March 11th, 2017
12:30pm Doors
1:00pm to 3:00pm Presentation

UAW Region 1 - Auditorium
27800 George Merrelli Dr., Warren, MI 48092... See More
Free Admission

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

More Letters About Audra Kubat's 'Mended Vessel'

So, as I reported in yesterday's post: singer/songwriter Chris Bathgate is writing a review of Audra Kubat's 'Mended Vessel...' I'm joining him in this, as I think a collaborative album review, a true dialogue with music, is something long overdue and worth attempting... I'm eager to see what we render from these writings...

Bathgate is in California, so he and I steadily writing letters to each other, diving in and digging around inside of each song, letter by letter... track by track...

While you're here, I have to tell you that you have an opportunity to see Ms. Kubat perform on Saturday night (more info here

***From here on out, the letters between myself and Mr. Bathgate will be posted every Tuesday, so we'll see you again on the 14th for a song called "September..." 

Meanwhile, here's track 2: "Mountain Woman" 


Part 2: "Mountain Woman" 



Dear Chris,

Indeed..., I've heard some strange, and actually troubling things about the powerful storms you've had in Northern California. Stay safe! And..., yes, thermometers are still disconcertingly high around here, in Michigan. Spring's pretty much here.

I wonder, can you tell how much a song means to a musician just by listening to it? An album is always, in theory, 10-equal parts (sometimes 11), in that it's a collection of songs, of statements. But this one, even as a second entry, already evokes an elevated significance in, above all, her voice.

I feel like we'll be talking about her voice in each of our letters. That voice is something like a gale, or a wave, or some organic-yet-not-quite-categorized ambiance you'd hear winding its way around oak trees and idyllic hills. I think that last sentence is suggestive of where this song sends me, in my mind, the visuals it manifests, and the way her voice can go from a whisper to a full throated intonation inside one note...!!

And something about the guitars, the harmonization of a more furtive and fleet cascade over a steadier pluck ringing out just every four measures or so. But those lyrics, looking back with reverence to an elder, with reverence to a lifestyle, an environment, that may be long-gone, or perhaps just so unknowable to many... It continues something from the first song ,that sense of seeking, seeking inside this frame of a lyrical story about a woman who helped raise her, a renewal of strength. I can hear how important this song is... Are any of your songs ever more important than others?

cheers,
-jeff

~~~~~~~~

Dear Jeff,

Funny how the weather doesn’t feel so much like small talk these days.....

This thing you’re wondering about, if you can deduce a measure of value through a performance or recording. I think in some cases I could argue: in a recording, you can tell how much a song meant to its performer at the time. Though with the subject matter of this second track, “mountain women", a narrative so strongly connected to the album title “Mended Vessel", I would wager that the feeling behind this song has and will be sustained in Audra.

In regards to her voice, I also can draw similar visuals from it.  All of these images you use: gales, waves, winding, movement is what brings these to mind. It’s clear Audra’s vocally has prowess and nuance–of motion. There's proof of this in moments like the soft tailing decrescendo of the word “woman” in the tag line, in the impossible fading delivery of s on the word “pockets” just before the bridge, or the casualness with which her voice gallops upon the word “Californ-aye-eh”.

I might have a bias in my adoration of this song, its content, its mission.  As an ex-pat who recently moved to an off-grid truffle farm in the wooded mountains of Northern California I can find intersections between this songs protagonist, the conditions of her life, and my landscape. The Narcissus we have in the vases (picked on the mountain) were planted by homesteaders who settled here in 1880. The remains of ancient wood stoves peak out of the star thistle. It feels as though there are echoes of this mountain woman's world(s) in mine.

It’s so nice to come into an album with a description of a feeling, followed by the inspiration of a feeling. Again, I’m seeing Audra the architect, framing our view of this narrative through “The Bells”. We’ve come from floating in isolation to a jeweled homage. Of all the jewels presented: strength, courage to love, self-sufficiency, Audra saves the best for last. She pins it so subtly, which seems an important move in considering the real estate given to the idea. Healing, healing is admirable.

The ability to heal can be passed down. Healing is in the blood. I feel like I have some footing here as this second track closes. I’m wondering what’s next. I feel like I’ve been brought the keyhole. I have the image of salvation, and survival already knocking around my brain, I’m wondering where I will go next.

To answer your question, yes. Though, that spotlight of value is dynamic. I’m wondering the same of Audra as we press forward.

-best,

Chris

Monday, March 6, 2017

Letters about Audra Kubat's 'Mended Vessel'

Chris Bathgate and I are collaborating on an album review....
We're trying out something different, for this...
And I'm excited, because I, just like you, probably only (or mostly) know Chris for his songwriting... He's taking on my role here: 


The album we're reviewing is Mended Vessel, by Detroit's renaissance woman in the modern art of folk music and performance: Audra Kubat. 

Chris and I wanted to share all of the thoughts, emotions, and evocations that this album triggered in each of us, while we spent the last late autumn of 2016 listening to it... So we wrote letters to each other about each song. 




Part 1.... 
"The Bells"



Dear Chris,
The sun is setting on an unusually warm winter day, and I'm starting in to Audra Kubat's Mended Vessel. The lead track, "The Bells," is a quiet, crackling opener, the arrangement seems to have a lot of space between the strums of acoustic guitar, the minimalist percussive clacks, the more atmospherically bent electric guitar, and what sounds like a moog of some kind, purring its oscillations below. (Perhaps your ears will decipher this intonation's source better than I...). But the energy is a simmer, something that's hushed but affects the sense and anticipation that it could elegantly erupt at any moment.

When Audra sings about hearing the bells, she's at a moment where she's "trying to keep above water," but fatigue is setting in... She hears the bells just as salvation seems to be drifting away from possibility, and yet, these bells are "just what (she) needed to hear..." It's an excellent way to start out an album: a call! A calling to her! It's compelling when she talks about breaking from her past behavior of building up a wall around her, and instead has an epiphany for herself, that it's "time for a revival." The Bells are "just what we needed to hear..."

Curious for your take on this track
sincerely--
-jeff

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Jeff,

I’ve heard about the joyful yet concerning weather in Michigan. Northern California is under heavy rains, and the gusts of wind don’t detract as I sit down to listen to Mended Vessel myself. I feel this same sense of hushed anticipation you describe on the “The Bells”.  I can’t help but thank her dramatic delivery early in the verses, in concert with the early image of one drifting, struggling. I agree with you, I feel it, a call! After the declaration it's "time for a revival", the chorus moves to include us, “what we needed to hear”, then to the hopeful: the dawn chorus of birds encourage, a single word seems to liberate. This call seems to allow different meanings to inhabit it throughout the song, or at least, veil it.

There is a mirroring grace in this song's melody. This hushed feeling is enhanced by the melodic fall at the end of each line of the verse. The musical lift at the head of the chorus leads to a hyper awareness of this moment “I head the bells they were ringing out”. Right as the bells take focus, the image becomes the center of both her most emphatic delivery and the actual highest notes sung. While I think the story telling and metaphor are the show in “The Bells", I think the melodic architecture and supporting composition are of note to this feeling of a call. The subtle climbing drones, 1/3 back beat, the synth, all feel unobtrusive to Audra’s voice. As I continue onward through her album I am seeing that voice reflect something inherent in this albums title, as I learned from your interview with her, and the second track. An honoring of her experience, her grandmothers, and even ours.

-best,
Chris




Saturday, March 4, 2017

Belle Isles, Lo & Behold, and beyond

Belle Isles: Richie Wohlfeil, Deb Agolli, Connor Dodson, and Nichole Hartrick


Richie Wohlfeil and I are on the couch in the shop... A shelf of paperbacks stand over our heads and I look around at the bins of records before I tell him that Lo & Behold Records & Books is a magical little place...

His eyes scan the entire couple thousand square footage of the modestly-yet-radiantly decorated rectangle-shaped retail space and one of the most genuine smiles I've ever seen any human emit starts to curl his mouth before he says: "...I like to think so, too... I hope so..."

This Sunday night, Wohlfeil will welcome one of the godfathers of indie-rock, Calvin Johnson (founder of K Records and leader of Beat Happening) to bring his Selector Dub Narcotic project to perform inside the Hamtramck vinyl/pulp shop, along with Best Exes and Wohlfeil's own band, The Belle Isles. 





Calvin Johnson of Selector Dub Narcotic





Now I'll warn you..., before this blog post goes on much further...., that Mr. Wohlfeil was deep into a moment of something close to existential crisis, if not, just a bout of pretty dense doubt... Because....

...Because I forget how easy it is to merely admire a man from afar for all that he does and not appreciate what that actually takes. And in Richie's case, it's being an intrepid luminary of the arts, music & culture scene around Hamtramck and Metro Detroit by way of serving as proprietor of a charming, strange, sweet little store that doubles as a community center. And I never appreciate, just as most might not consider, how hard that will get to be on a guy after six years: day in, day out, running the whole show all by yourself. Sure it might be easier if Wohlfeil were a cutthroat capitalist-type, sharp in the strategies of shameless self-promotion... But, no!

No! This guy's a poet! He's a drummer. He's a dancer. He likes playing guitar and helping out his friends; he likes reading books and feeding his cat. He likes learning about classic recordings and preserving local culture. He likes designing things. He likes writing things. He loves playing music with his friends. He's not a boss or a business professional. He just runs the best book store in town...even if not enough people know it yet, after these years.

"Was it a goal all along to make this more of a community space?"

"I really don't now what the goal was," says Richie. "I think I just wanted a workspace, and a place people could come in to, if they wanted to engage. Mostly...," he gestures around at instruments, cables, speakers and a laptop...  "...it's a workspace."

While I want you here on this page to listen to the Belle Isles..., the quartet's smoky, sweaty send-up to 50's R&B, early 60's Motown, and sax-splashed surf-rock..., I also want to give Richie the chance to talk. Just talk....

"For every beautiful thing that happens here..., there's a shitty person who can come and counteract it, somehow. Which is frustrating. It can get me down a lot, 'cuz I'm real emotional about that kinda stuff. There are days I can just have a couple Crazies come in all threatening and I ask: 'What am I doing? I should just close and be done...' It's a battle every day.

I tell Richie that, as I've suspected all along, he's vulnerable, or at least easily influenced, by the emotional waves around him: that can mean he's the true spirit of any party when things are hopping, but it also means his empathic side can wither when the dark clouds gather. "It's too taxing. I just don't know if I'm equipped for it now..."

Because right now, he'd rather be recording with the Belle Isles. Right now, Belle Isles are his meditaiton.

"Belle Isles are saving my life, right now. It's my favorite thing and I want to just focus on that and almost stop everything else..."





I tell him this, and I might as well tell you, because it's as precise of a testimonial as I can give: The Belle Isles' music is a party I never want to end. They could play a full two hour set and I'd want more....

"That makes me happy to hear... We could play for two hours. We can play 28 songs at this point, that we're comfortable with..."

Comfortable, I tell him. You guys are comfortable with each other.

"Yeah, we all really care about each other and we like hanging out. Some bands you practice with and just go home. Other bands you enjoy having beers with, afterwards...and you're friends. But the Isles are beyond that, transcended just friendship. It's the most of any band that I've ever been in where hanging out together is as great as playing together."

If you've ever heard the choice tunes spun by Richie at any of his sporadic DJ events, spanning soul, R&B, funk and classic rock 'n' roll, then you'll easily see the connection to Belle Isles. This band is basically his record collection. "It's something I've wanted to do since I was a kid."

But Richie is in so many bands. The firestorm soul and locomotive garage rock of The Potions, the throwback blues, roots and folk-rock of Danny & The Darleans, the spazzed-spacey-amorphous-noise-adventures of Rainbow Milk.... The list goes on!

"The more you, as a musician, can experience different facets of music, you're just broadening your communication..."

I tell him that I've thought, recently, how that's what makes the art and music I love so impactful... that it can communicate something to me. Even as primal as the way I feel united with people I'm in a room with while the Belle Isles are performing. Like we're all at that same party...

"...and I guess that comes from me sorta being angry when I hear artists say they 'do it for themselves.' Or it's 'art for art's sake...' No, you're choosing to present this into a public sphere, which means you now have a social obligation to the public that engages with that,... People disregard the importance of that. I know Potions are a weirdo band, but the Freaky Deaky's still need love too!"

I tell him we all need love. And he agrees... Then he reemphasizes that that was why he helped out with the recent Passenger Recovery project to provide sober spaces for recovering touring artists. That spreading of love is the same reason he lets out the store to a knitting group, or to the meetings and events of the Seraphine Collective.

"You should always be engaged with each other. Engaged with your audience. There's a place for all of it, whether it's confrontational punk or heartfelt bedroom pop or weird droney noise, there's a place for it and there is exhange there... If I'm gonna be in a band and in a room engaging with people, I want it to be fun for everybody and I want us to share something. That's part of the Belle Isles ethos. That's why we avoid playing on a stage. I want us to be accessible and humble and break that barrier."

Breaking another barrier would be to invite you into a book store for what's essentially a sober show. Over the last year, Richie has hosted lots of concerts in his space to defy "bar culture" or "liquor culture," where the music and the musicians become secondary to the bar tabs. Shows at Lo & Behold buck that trend of paying musicians with beer tickets.

But maintaining the shop is starting to take it's toll. "There are so many things I wanna do... I find myself asking: 'Why am I mopping this floor right now? I'd rather be recording or painting..."

I try to tell him what he means to this music scene. I try to tell him how the very existence of this place, this store, gives me this strange sense of pride, local pride... That this dude might be an earthly muse.

"I appreciate that. But there's something happening now, to where me extending all that kindness is biting me in the ass somehow. People using it against me. That's what makes me want to shut the whole thing down, sometimes... So, what do you do? What do you do?"

I have no idea what to tell him. But I remind him that he is independent--to the point where he should make any decision that he feels is right, whether that's closing the shop entirely, or even just the gesture of taking the shop off of the lineup of host venues for this year's Hamtramck Music Festival.

"It was sad seeing people I care about and respect, not only being polarized against one another, but how it was creating a dividing line in the scene... even while the answers seemed really apparent, that the right thing to do was right there but it wasn't being done... And yeah, with social media, everyone can be quicker to judge and I have sympathy for those who were publicly shamed during it, but it was like, I'd just rather not engage.... But the longer they let the situation fester, then the resentment built up. Why let it get that far? The cloud of the issue became bigger than the actual problem, in a way and then there was this ripple effect. Just....bad energy...."

Hamtramck Music Festival is winding down, and Lo & Behold, along with several other bands and the Seraphine Collective, stayed by their decision to back out of participating. But for Richie, I can see it in his eyes, how complicated it is for him, decisions like this.... Decisions of what to do next. Decisions of what he wants....

I take a deep breath and just think for a second. This bad energy, I say, is likely erupted further from the terrible tremors of our current political climate...

"I ask..." says Richie... "should I remove myself from an Internet presence and do special orders only? But I couldn't make enough money to keep the shop open. Any money I make goes toward other things, like helping out Laura Grimshaw with her recent project of prints... I'm more interested in that, and in fulfilling the neighborhood for as long I can...."

That's what we love about you, I say.

"But it doesn't sustain me living a habitable normal life, and it doesn't sustain the shop. I feel like I'm spread thin with all the bands and other stuff. I don't want to sit on these 30 Belle Isle songs any longer... I want to record. I want to hammer them out, here, and soon. So...."

"So, what do you do? Belle Isles are where my heart is at right now. That's all I wanna do..."

There's this look in his eyes. It's fragile. But it's also coiled in this way - the expression of an acrobat before he grabs the swinging trapeze. It's more than that. Maybe I'm projecting mystical powers on to him because that's just the way I regard Richie, but he's gazing ahead, beyond the walls of the store, almost beyond a horizon or a far off mountain. He's physically in one place, he's in the store, right now. But his thoughts are everywhere. And his heart? His heart's with the Belle Isles. Right now.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Ancient Language premieres "Until Recently"


Artwork by Talon Wolf Talon Wolf Art
Ancient Language sent over the latest track from their new EP earlier this week. Now I'm excited to premiere "Until Recently..." This smooth, cinematic tune demonstrates the latest direction for the Detroit/Tuscon-based quartet ambient/electronica quartet, particularly from recording/performing all-instrumentals into becoming an ensemble with vocals/harmonies.

The band has been piecing together 8 songs over email, for a forthcoming EP (late Spring/early Summer). Christopher Jarvis started the group as its head-writer/composer, collaborating directly with his brother, AL's bassist Zachariah. The group's a trio now, with dreamy vocals, electric guitar and sax from Matthew Beyer.

(Chris) Jarvis is currently out in Arizona developing his other career, in film..., but the bandmates have kept in touch through email, tinkering and adding on to the original files that Jarvis sends around...



A subdued radiance emits from the every intonation, the restorative beat is propulsive but not insistent, the guitars shimmer subtly without imposing, the synths and ambient splashes sound like the sighs of the freshly refurbished, the bass gallops just enough to gird its momentum and the saxophone's sweets sweeps add an orchestral vibe. I liken it to that inherently expansive time-point of our Earth's rotation, where a very orange incites passage from the darkened dawn to early morning, and everything-everywhere is slowly coming to life, stretching, rising, activating... In need of a soulful activation? Find it with Ancient Language's newest....

The chorus soars with the lyrics: "Each day I feel like living..." as the warm-toned keys create a geyser to spill upon the wending swoon of that sax. It's a song perfectly timed, I'd say, for the onset of Spring and renewal...

https://soundcloud.com/ancientlanguage/until-recently



Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Devious Ones - Djarum Summers

The Internet is constantly moving... akin to the tempo of a punk rock song...

So, as of this writing, Detroit's Devious Ones have already had their new single "Djarum Summers" streaming online for about 23 or 24 hours... Which you can find more info about, here.

Or...? Listen to it below....
After...., that is, you read this:

Devious Ones - Record Release
Saturday, March 11
Kelly's Bar
2403 Holbrook (Hamtramck)
featuring: Cinecyde 
More info




"Djarum Summers" pulses with nostalgia for past days of debauchery and musing over the nuanced ways in which they've shaped ones present-day disposition. "What did they know..." the chorus asks, sneering back with that same youthful defiance at anyone judging their past proclivities, but answering in the next verse, "What did we know...?" I know it's fast, and rigorous, and aggressive, but there's a lot o' heart in this tune. The Devious Ones found this fine sweet spot where punk can be fun, without patronizing any "pop;" the hooks are swift and indelible, but there's still a lot of rust and grit spewing out of the amps.

And then "Court Clothes" gets even more fierce in its tempo and instrumentation, vitalized with a punchy monosyllabic verse that nervily knees its way to this up-and-down melody, embossed by throaty harmonized shouts. It's a head-banger, for sure... something to rile you up.

 But this song, just like the lead single, surges forth with a bit this purity, and by that I mean...you can tell how much love these four Detroit dudes have for punk-rock music. And at this point, having played it each, individually, for long enough and with a handful of other groups, they can use it to bring that love, if you'll allow me some schmaltz, to you, to me, to anyone... And that's what makes it fun.

Find em on Facebook.
Check out the release party.