Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Poetry Of It All: SoulGalaxyGirl

I want to go back to a place of pure emotion. You don't have to throw me back; this is not a throwback... But to hear the voice of Ann Arbor-based singer/songwriter Dani Darling, is to attain a new understanding of just how potent those pure emotions were when they exuded by jazz icons like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, with feathery, lilting melodies, activating the full poignancy of the human voice-as-instrument, emoted as much as performed, a voice that can be as powerful as to quiet all else around you, obscure the cacophonous anxieties of the outside world and tune you in to something primal and beautiful, something laid bare, something vulnerable but transcended, wistful yet still resolute...

Dani Darling performs as SoulGalaxyGirl and is part of the Black Opera Collective. She's preternaturally attuned to affecting a certain kind of subtly vibrant vibe - and I know vibe is an amorphous phenomena that we music writers like to throw in to suggest a kind of evocative atmosphere, but whatever it is, that kind of classically jazzy/neo-soul vibe that impels a listener to close their eyes while listening and let the purple-splashed daydream-like visuals come and cast a contemplatively-escapist spell upon you...whatever that is, that vibe...? SoulGalaxyGirl's got it down.

SoulGalaxyGirl is performing this Saturday in Ypsilanti.
This lineup is curated by Grove Studios, part of their monthly series Live at RAC.
Riverside Arts Center
Athena Johnson / Steve Somers / Duane Wells / The DayNites / RoyalĂ© Michael  
Breathe Easy Music Group / Gary Horton / Derick Jerome -


I have to ask about your voice. It's delicate, it's powerful, it's a voice for soul music, but it also feels like something for a choir. Like it could fit in a jazz club or a coffeeshop folk night just as easily as it would in a theater! 
Its funny you said choir because I started out singing in a trio. I’m part of a set of singing triplets, and we started singing at around 4, my grandmother would take us around to sing at retirement homes lol. While church and gospel music was a large part of my musical journey, I’d say that choral music, music theater, and opera also have been large parts of my development. Later on I really got into jazz. As a soloist I would say that Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday are my biggest influences now in terms or vocal aesthetic. I had a very big jazz phase that I never got over!

When did you first start writing songs? Very young! I think the first song I wrote was about my dog dying when I was a kid....and..., so started the angst! (laughs). I started writing songs seriously at about 19.

When you think about your favorite artists, your most formative influences, even your favorite songs, is there something that they achieve, in terms of emotional impact and arrangement, that you try to do with your own work? I think what influences me most is lyrical beauty and a vibe! Sade is my number one favorite songwriter. Radiohead has always been at the top of my list. But classic jazz standards are super romantic and honest about feelings, too. If it's confessional and dreamy? I'm into it! Since I value that the most as a listener, I hope that comes across in my music. The poetry of it all!
So you've got the "Wonder" suite, can you talk about that, it blends that old world jazz sound to contemporary vibes of neo-soul and R&B... There is a whole lofi-music-wave that is gaining momentum, where it's this combination of jazz and movie music, with subtle, understated arrangements. I find it so easy to write to, and that is how those songs emerged. Just hearing the instrumentals and hearing songs that I just felt I had to record and share. The songs that I produced and wrote from top-to-bottom are coming soon!!

What is your experience like, so far, in the local music scene around Ann Arbor & Ypsilanti? Locally, I've just recently begun to approach the music scene and I'm very impressed. I think that Ypsi has a lot going on, right now. I've had really warm receptions and what I find most inspiring is that my music is kind of singular, and yet I still feel like I fit in. Very grateful for that!

You mentioned top-to-bottom productions, what else are you working on or looking forward to in 2018? 
          Yes! I have a music video coming out in the spring! But there's also the All Threads Festival (March 10). This year, I'm focusing on my live show, so you'll be seeing a lot of me around here! I have a proect that I plan to round out the year with, so 2018 will be a big year!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

DEATH - Give It back

Detroit's proto-punk legends DEATH have released a new single today.

 "Give It Back" was recently unearthed from the depths of the DEATH archives. The song's lyrics have a re-energized urgency today, addressing the virtues of being environmentally conscious citizens of this planet and railing against the social dissolution we are all facing in the world today.

DEATH's latest is exemplary of their dynamic rock 'n' roll riffs, soulful grooves, an impassioned vocals, is a charged-up appeal that we, as fellow humans, start acting as a global society, and consider curtailing the status quo of always taking from the Earth, and instead, giving back to her.  , we as a society continue to take form mother Earth and now it's time to give back to her.

DEATH were a once-mythic-but-later-properly-celebrated Detroit rock trio of brothers, formed in 1971--way ahead of their time in terms of pioneering a blend of garage-rock, soul, punk and rock 'n' roll. They reformed in 2009, with a 2012 documentary film following soon after that told their story. More info 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

No More Cover Charge at The New Way Bar

On Friday, January 26, The New Way Bar's owner Jamie D'Angelo announced that there would be no more cover charges to see live music. Weeknights, weekends, any day, any show, free entry.

I just got off the phone with Jamie, and I'll be putting together a proper feature for the print pages of The Ferndale Friends soon, but I want to spoil something right away and tell you that the impetus to "make this leap," he said, came from a genuine belief that this bar is, and should always be, the "host" for local talent.

Without performing bands, Jamie said he wouldn't have been able to sustain his current run of the New Way Bar.

In fact, we're coming up on five years Jamie took over the New Way Bar. Over his first couple years, it became a more and more active spot on the scene for shows. And the idea to go all-free/all-the-time for their scheduled concerts has been gestating in the back of his head for quite a while, now.

It ties in to something I've been considering more and more these past five years - the risk of music and musicians being underappreciated and even devalued. I say "risk of," but I know that in the estimation of lots of artists, it's already happened... ...that music has become white noise in the background of a bar or a club or a gym, or something you trim into the intro's and outro's of podcasts or splash upon car commercials. We're at a moment in time where people expect music to just be accessible, and then just as easily passed-on.

That's why I'm encouraged after seeing Jamie make this move with the New Way Bar. Because, frankly, he had gotten tired of seeing folks come up to the door, see a required cover charge, and then turn away... Of course the hardcore music lovers in the scene will always come out, but it remains difficult to attract the casual club hopping individual who's just exploring the happening spots of a downtown on a given weekend night. If the New Way's door is always open, especially during all local music concerts, than a wider range of audience members can become acquainted with the myriad and diverse bands populating the greater SE Michigan arts community.

Experiencing music in a live incarnation is vital to a comprehensive appreciation of it. It's when you hear it, when you see its creators, live, right there, in the moment, propelled, that it grows from being just you appreciating music, and becomes you celebrating music. More than that, you're celebrating it as a group; you could be surrounded by perfect strangers, or your best friends, but the ceremony is still a shared experience. And that's what makes it memorable.

Don't miss out on making a lasting memory by being exposed to some amplified music from a stage, made by songwriters and bands that may very likely be your neighbor! The next time you visit The New Way Bar to hear some live music, the only thing you'll need to take out of your wallet is your driver's license.

The New Way regularly hosts evens like an Open Mic Night (featuring Ryan Dillaha), and a stand-up comedy night. Follow on Facebook for information on upcoming shows.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Satori Circus: These Are My Friends

"What I see, what I hear...what I's all molded and forged with my imagination, an imagination that was so vivid as a kid and that, now, as an adult, I can't see ever letting it go." - Satori Circus

The artist behind the facepaint, beneath the costumes, the artist that pantomimes and projects his versatile vocal range over a composite of rock showtunes and punk operas and glam-folk waltzes, is always pushing the proverbial envelope. Satori Circus was conceived 30 years ago by musician & performance-artist Russ Taylor, a Detroiter who got his start in the early 80's with punk bands, but would eventually approach the stage with a strong sense for disrupting expectations. As it evolved, it became equal parts Dadaist vaudeville, Buster Keaton charm, DEVO subversiveness, Rocky Horror vamp & camp, and Bowie-like chameleonesque rock 'n' roll transcendence. One never forgets the first time one encountered Satori Cirucs. 

It's about time there was a documentary film that could properly produce a portrait of the agile and imaginative artist, himself. 'Being Satori Circus' is currently in production, by filmmaker Mark Finnell. And as Satori naturally found a home amid the burlesque scene, as well as the dark carnival world of Theatre Bizarre, he's making this weekend's spectacular Crofoot show be an all inclusive celebration.

These Are My Friends will feature the Theatre Bizarre Orchestra, as well as 'Pinch and Squeal' of Wizbang Circus, Lushes LaMoan, Josie Pace, Scott Dambacher, The F.A.H. Corps and the extraordinary lounge singer known as Konrad Lee. Satori Circus is going to be performing with the Theatre Bizarre Orchestra, and their set will be recorded live, inside the Crofoot Ballroom, for a forthcoming LP release. The multifaceted entertainments of the evening will be filmed by Finnell, to essentially be a capping sequence/montage for the forthcoming completion of the Satori documentary.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

J.D. Wright - "No Resolutions"

We can get so stuck in the status quo that it starts to feel we're enmeshed in some imperceptible abstraction. Songwriters like Jordan David Wright sing with the wiser wariness of someone who's actively created some distance between himself and loud and ignorant babble of, you name it: social media, a weekend party, talk radio rage...

Separating yourself with that measured amount of distance from the fray to then try and bear witness can take a kind of toll, but it's yielded a hauntingly beautiful batch of songs from JD Wright, each as unsparingly honest as the last. Wright has rendered poetic ruminations from a moment, a whole year really, of spiritual and philosophical strain and evolution in his life, as he's lurched up and out of the enchantment and naivety of the youth of our 20's and into the coarser scrapes and unease that set upon you after giving closer surveying to the profoundly quieting situations and trends that have only been worsening, like weeds around you, all your life.

JD Wright premiered the lead single from his album, Lake Effect, earlier this week on Substream Magazine.

Contemplation comes to you naturally when you work as a librarian. But even as his day job situated Wright inside an otherwise typically quiet environment, he's been spending the better part of the last 10 years' worth of his weekends in supremely amplified rooms, with rambunctious audiences and voluminous punk rock bands.

The librarian-by-day has been a guitarist and vocalist in a handful of bands, including Due North and Cheapshow, but never officially took center stage, so to speak. That changes in the Spring, when he releases Lake Effect on vinyl. The album was recorded during the winter of 2017 in Ferndale, MI, backed by guitarists Eric Plunkard and Alex Errington, bassist Noah Fenton, and drummer Jordan VonZynda.

Wright may have made niche for himself over the years since moving down here to the Metro Detroit area, but he was raised in Northern Michigan. That's a much more rural place, a colder place, a more conservative place, a more religious place; it's a place where the concerns of communities and farmers may come second to things like the Line 5 Pipeline, or where tragic stories of opioid addiction go ignored from the headlines. It's a place where you can feel out of place, pretty quickly, if you start stepping just far enough away to glimpse back. And that brings me back to the toll it's taken....

artwork by Linden
Wright thrived amid the punk rock scene: anthemic ballads at swift tempos with throaty vocals and an overall full-on embrace of emotions and anger...and joy, too. But Wright's record is, essentially, a folk record. It's a folk-ROCK record, at times, with propulsive chord progressions and strong, earworm melodies threaded throughout.  But it's still something closer to a punk rocker that's pondering some of the heavier stuff we'd all rather not talk about or think about in the midst of banging our heads to a beat...think Billy Bragg, or Joe Strummer, or Ted Leo, artists who still have that vigorous style of guitar playing and passionate vocal delivery, but aren't shying away from parsing through vitriol or the small societal calamities that can seep through the cracks of our consideration.

"No Resolutions" references the last night of a given year, and there's something stark about it that suggests, in the sound of Wright's voice and the closeness of the guitar, to where you almost feel like it is 1am, that it is a writer in a room with a world of general dismay and nonsense careening outside; and the startling intimacy comes when you realize that he's allowing himself to say things outloud that he might have been afraid to before...Like he might not even be aware of, or care, whether an audience is going to hear this confessional. It's a powerful kind of catharsis.

Production-wise, it goes from a single acoustic guitar, to a churning guitar that's gliding like a distant jet in the background. When that pares back, we're left with a final verse of Wright admitting a fear of spiritual disrepair, but it's quickly cast aside by one blunt, brutal resolution, the exact wording of which you'll have to wait for when the song finishes.

Lake Effect is coming out this Spring on Save Your Generation Records

Friday, February 2, 2018

Update: Milo Minute & Milo Show

We're one month in to the new year, and I wanted to look back at all the music we've listened to on WDET for the weekly "Milo Minute" segment. Every week, I check in a couple times with Culture Shift Host Amanda LeClaire to give listeners a rundown of what's on my list of must-see live local music events around Detroit.

Below, some of the songs we heard on the air (on weekdays between 12pm & 2pm on 101.9, WDET-FM). Most of these songs came out last year, or even longer ago, but I still think some return-listens are always worthwhile. Coming up next week, I'll be talking about the EP release of Brother Elsey, an expansive vaudeville & music show at the Crofoot featuring Satori Circus, an album release party for journeyman drummer Zach Pliska, and a peek at what's going on at the New Way Bar (which, by the way, just announced that they'd be ditching cover charges entirely for their live local music concerts).

I also just wanted to check in and give you an update on a YouTube Talk Show Series I hosted last year, with videographer Kristi Billings and sound engineer Chad Stocker. That will return, but it's shifting into an audio-only podcast. Our first episode will be out soon, and it kicks off a new format where, instead of four guests per episode, Chad and I will be visiting the studio space of one artist, and talking to them in between a handful of exclusive live performances. Up first & pictured above, is Double Winter