Whats the latest on local music? The following is a round-up of CDs by musicians from around Northern Michigan. Reviews by Robert Downes.
All Odds Against All Odds Against
Who would have suspected that Gaylord would have produced such a dead-on homage to the current state of hardcore? All Odds Against got their start in the winter of 2003 and have since been through numerous changes in their lineup while keeping true to their vision of extreme metal.
The band includes Derek on bass, Greg on guitar, Olen on guitar and Steve on drums (alas, no last names included in the liner notes), with an assist on vocals by Frances Damoth. Most of the band members perform on vocals, dishing up croaking screams and howls in the best tradition of todays hardcore yellers, with an effect like sandy jalapeno peppers inching through a colitic bowel. All Odds Against have clear command of their instruments on this six-song EP. We liked the operatic Sands Through the Hourglass for throwing down the hammer and upholding Gaylords place in the pantheon of aggressive metal.
Straight Forward Bluegrass Band
Based straight outta Fife Lake, this traditionalist bluegrass band aims for an authentic sound even singing around the same mike during their live performances and scores a bulls-eye with virtuoso playing.
The band has written six of the 15 songs on the album, with the balance made up of classics ranging from Foggy Mountain Breakdown by Earl Scruggs and Tennessee Waltz by Hank Williams to Copperhead Road by Steve Earle. Their original tunes, such as Old Shoes in Gear and Hillbilly Singer, hew to the old-timey traditions of Appalachia. At times the vocals are corn-stubble rough (with the exception of Fonda Lorings superb take on Tennessee Waltz), but in an intentional way as part of bluegrasss rough-hewn ethic.
Contributors include Jeff White (guitar, mandolin), Terri White (bass), Karl Malin (banjo), Bob Saddler (fiddle), Andrew Sias (mandolin), Fonda Loring (vocals), Steve Loring (mandolin, banjo) and John Richey (fiddle). Engineer Scott Zylstra of Frontier Studios in Copemish weighs in as an uncounted member of the band for the excellent sound on this disc.
Claudia Schmidt Live At the Dakota
With the Dean Magraw Quintet
No local singer matches the inventive dynamic of Claudia Schmidt, whose range runs from moodful musings to a roller coaster ride of scat rhymes and rhythms. As with many great jazz performers, Claudias energy is best captured live, and her latest disc finds her at her state of the art best.
While Schmidt is a familar face to many in Northern Michigan, with frequent shows throughout the year in the region, this CD reminds us that she has star power on the national scene. It was recorded live at the Dakota, a jazz club and restaurant in Minneapolis, where she established a large fan base years ago on tour and as a guest on Prairie Home Companion.
A pleasant surprise on this album is the inclusion of five songs more than seven minutes in length. Tunes like Recordamè, Midnight Sun and Peace unfold at a leisurely pace, allowing Schmidts vocals time to play off the jazz riffs of the Dean Magraw Quintet. The 10 songs on this album include a mix of Schmidts own work as a jazz and blues songwriter, with standards by the likes of Sergio Mendes, Lionel Hampton and Joe Henderson.
One minor suggestion: Claudia Schmidt has it in her to write jazz classics of her own. Much of the vocal jazz you hear today hangs on nostalgia, lingering dreadfully stale and reductive. It would be nice to hear Schmidt to write some new standards and leave the old stuff to lesser talents.
NUMB Skin Grafik
NUMB is the work of Skin Grafik (David Wildfong), who put together all 23 cuts on a disc that is wildly ambitious in its scope.
Skin Grafik is a member of 10 Cent Depozit, a hip-hop posse that includes lyricists Slyder (Gabe Bearden) and James Gwoove (James Kaagwa). The Traverse City-based trio has been carving out its turf over the past 12 years, with a highlight being its performance with the 2003 Vans Warped Tour. Its tough at times to know where NUMB leaves off and the Depozit begins, since Wildfong lists this disc as their fourth album, released in 2005.
The mood is dark and gloomy, in line with the realism that many rappers claim to represent in their music. Its hard to imagine that Skin Grafik is able to find much in the way of grit and mean city streets in bucolic Traverse City, but he says he spent much of his youth in correctional facilities, -- a possible source of inspiration.
At any rate, Skin Grafik is a choice singer with a deep throb of a voice. He speaks truth to power on issues such as war and the federal government, and theres no denying hes aced the rhyming, freestyle side of hip-hop. Check him and 10 Cent Depozit out at venues such as Streeters, Union Street and the Loading Dock.
Feel That John D. Lamb
Theres a great song on this album that we heard for the first time at last summers Blissfest: Look Out for Deer, about a downstater in his four-wheel drive comin round Boyne Mountain on his way north. Lamb nails the exhilaration of the Up North experience as the driver in his song heads for the ski slopes and the good times, while wary of the whitetails on the road.
Although Lamb hangs his hat in Royal Oak, hes a frequent performer in the Little Traverse area throughout the summer, bringing a touch of midwestern folk-rock to the region. Lamb writes thoughtful songs with a wry touch -- hes a thinking persons songwriter. You get the impression that keeping it real is more important to him than polishing every nuance, and hes got a crack band backing him up that would do Lucinda Williams proud. With a laid-back, made-in-Detroit drawl, his voice and lyrics invite comparisons to populist songwriters ranging from Mellencamp to Steve Earle, with roots buried in the heart of the country.
Borderline Normal James Filkins
James Filkins is a teacher at Central High School and NMC in Traverse City, but his passion is fingerpicking the acoustic guitar. This is his first CD, including 14 original compositions based on 30 years of playing. Lending their talents are several of his former students as well as bassist Glenn Wolff of the Neptune Quartet.
Filkins performs on two hand-built acoustic guitars, capturing images amid the strings on titles such as Round Lake Leelanau (a biking tune), Ambient Noise, Tears for a Princess and A Bleak December. If you like the new age sounds of Windham Hill and the crisp, clean ring of an impeccably-played steel string guitar, then Borderline Normal is your ticket to ride.
Guitarist, recording engineer and composer Rob Piotrowski is the heart of Nestoria, playing the majority of instruments in a studio setting. In that respect, the former Interlochen Arts Academy sound engineer is something of a Brian Eno, or the chap in Enigma who assembles albums from spare sonic parts.
Currently living in Grand Rapids, Piotrowski/Nestoria has created dreamy sounds from minimalist elements. Nestorias debut is about taking a sound and making a cohesive album based on it, he writes. I wanted to create a certain atmosphere for the entire album, so I learned how to make ambient landscapes through intricate layering. My extensive use of multi-tracking allowed me to build an orchestra of guitars and computer generated sounds that work together to form sonically unique compositions.
Its a step up from what many college kids are doing with Garageband software on their Macs. It would be interesting to see if Nestoria could pull off a live gig.
Earthwork Music 2
The au courant sounds of several of Northern Michigans folk and string music players are featured on this sampler from Earthwork Music. Its a Michigan-based independent record label, songsters collective and community of friends based out of Petoskey.
Featured are Daisy May, Joshua Davis, Darlene, Luke Winslow-King, Sari Brown, Seth Bernard, Daniel Kahn, Jen Sygit, Phil Wintermute and Breathe Owl Breathe. Some you may have heard at local coffeehouses and folk festivals. The album provides a nice snapshot in sound of the local folk scene, particularly with the young up-and-comers.