A Little Slice Jenny Thomas
Perhaps the greatest challenge for any musician is to craft a song that will live on in the listeners memory. How many times have you gone to a concert and come away unable to recall any memorable songs or what the singer had to say?
Thats not the case for singer/songwriter Jenny Thomas, who has a gift for writing acoustic songs that take root and blossom in the listeners heart. She wins you over with vivid images, optimistic melodies and a percolating, upbeat tempo. As a singer, theres a shot of honey in the timbre of her voice -- a gift which draws the listener in, making you feel like a close friend. Her live performances are also noteworthy for their inviting, even delivery and assured stage presence. As one fan says, Everybody likes Jenny Thomas.
Examples of her best work are on this six-song EP, particularly Oh My Soul, a bouncy melody that captures the spirit of Northern Michigan with a driving rhythm and zinger lines such as Take me for a ride on the back of a whitetail deer. Another standout is Betsy Brown, about a pillar of the community who seems to have it made, but is in fact fatally unhappy. Its shocker ending puts one in mind of classic ballads such as Simon and Garfunkels Richard Corey or Dylans John Brown.
A graphic designer from Traverse City, Thomass themes embrace a love of family and friends. On this CD, which is available at Horizon Books and Borders, she gets an assist from Will Thomas on drums, Crispin Campbell on cello, and the recording talents of Patrick Niemisto. A Little Slice is a great representation of her live show -- increasingly, she is in demand as the opening act for folk stars passing through venues such as the InsideOut Gallery.
Blues, Ballads and All That Jazz Kerry Secrist and Jan Fisher
Its obvious that Kerry Secrist and Jan Fisher are having the time of their lives belting out jazz and blues classics, some of which have slipped over the horizon of the popular consciousness, yet still hold up as timeless standards.
The duo are fronted by the Back Room Gang, including Hal Fisher on tuba, Don Frost on drums, Jim Acker on trombone, Jim Niessink on banjo and Steve Stargardt on piano. The album was recorded and produced by David Chown, who also performs on piano.
The 19 songs on the CD offer a stroll down memory lane to places like the Beale Street Blues, the St. Louis Blues, Georgia On My Mind and Always a touch of All That Jazz, with Jan and Kerry nailing the oldies but goodies with spirit and style.
Land of the Free Victor McManemy
Perhaps Northern Michigans greatest undiscovered folk player, Victor McManemy had a voice in the same neighborhood as that of Gordon Lightfoot, with songwriting talents to match when he released Land of the Free in 1983.
McManemy, a resident of Old Mission Peninsula, also had an attitude firmly on the side of the underdog, writing in the lost tradition of the angry, aggrieved balladeer on behalf of the dispossessed, with the injustice to Native Americans being a favorite theme. The album also took a bare-knuckles stand on issues of the day, such as the Big Rock nuclear power plant near Charlevoix (Big Rock Points On the Line) and atomic weapons (Lets Stop the Tridents!).
If you havent heard the cassette tape of Land of the Free in a few years, the re-released CD offers a revelation on the superb musicianship found on the albums nine songs, with McManemy performing on six-and-12 string guitars, Tom Dufelmeier on six-string acoustic lead guitar, Jerry Sprague on bass, and exquisite harmonies from Linda Dufelmeier.
Back in the early days of Northern Express, we used to play Land of the Free at rocket-liftoff volume while laying out the paper, finding inspiration in its powerful songs. Its simply a knockout of an album and a masters class in the power of folk.
The Fifth Street Sessions Jim Bransky & Andy Rockwood
A truly unusual album in that The Fifth Street Sessions is an all-instrumental take on 12 traditional and jazz standard tunes, expertly played by a top-notch roster of local acoustic musicians.
Jim Bransky, who performs on diatonic harmonicas and penny whistle, says the disc had its genesis with the Road Kill Stew days of the late 1980s when the band got together to jam. Andy Rockwood on fiddle and acoustic bass was onboard with Bransky from those days, and the two have rounded out their sound with Mike Sullivan on guitar, Mike Parish on congas, Pat Ivory on guitar, Laura Miller on acoustic bass and Rick Jones on percussion.
Initially, the listener might wonder why the group didnt think to add vocals to their CD -- one can easily imagine a skillful chanteuse rounding out the music. But subsequent playings reveal that the music holds up quite well on its own. This is meditative, thoughtful music, underscoring the power of acoustic instrumentals.