Music runs in May Erlewine’s blood. Her father, Michael Erlewine, was active in the Michigan folk music scene, collaborating with the likes of Bob Dylan and Iggy Pop.
He also founded the online All Music Guide in the early ‘90s, where it became a pop culture source for music fans worldwide.
Her husband, Seth Bernard, is a musician in his own right, known best for his own solo work as well as for the duo he forms in life and music with May.
But this season, it’s May Erlewine’s turn to shine, with the debut of her latest solo album, “Where We Are.”
The road to recording “Where We Are” wasn’t an easy one for Erlewine.
“Life has brought about a lot of loss in the past couple of years,” she explained carefully. “We have had to say goodbye to some very dear friends. But just when it all seemed too thick, life also gave us a blessing.”
After losing several people close to them unexpectedly, May Erlewine and Seth Bernard’s daughter, Iris, was born this past Febru ary.
“Where We Are” was recorded while Erlewine was pregnant.
She kept close to home putting the album together, recording at the Heart Center Studio in Big Rapids, where she grew up.
“It is a beautiful, open space to record in, and my folks live just a block away,” she said.
Calling the process a “magical,” if difficult, experience, Erlewine called upon her usual studio crew for the album, which included Bernard on guitars and harmonies, Michael Shimmin on drums, Dominic Davis on bass, and Joshua Davis on piano. Rachael Davis sent some harmonies up from Nashville, and the album was engineered by La Luna Studio’s Ian Gorman.
Red Tail Ring’s Laurel Premo contributed harmonies, fiddle, and banjo.
“Laurel is the factor that makes this album sound a lot different,” Erlewine said.
Erlewine said she set things up with a specific focus on making each session special.
“We worked with the intention to create a container to be in for several days,” she said.
She gave each player a “spirit animal” and a color, to help inspire their unique role within the crafting of the album. Each musician also had their own space, with extra effort made to keep the proceedings as positive as possible.
“Recording can be stressful,” Erlewine said, “so everybody tries to not get bogged down.”
After Erlewine set the creative foundation, the rest of the band and production crew added in lots of good food and made sure everyone took plenty of breaks, especially because of Erlewine’s pregnancy.
At one point, she got the flu, but her dedicated team stepped in and continued onward with studio overdubs.
“It was really an amazing experience,” Erlewine said. “The songs were heavy, too, and these guys took such good care of them, especially Seth. Knowing my vision, he was able to lead the way when I had to rest.”
A couple of standouts from “Where We Are” are ones that Erlewine says she also enjoys playing the most: “Sweet By and By” and “I Do Not Know.”
“Sweet…,” in particular, captures the main lyrical thread that runs through the set, that of loss and rebirth and the places that exist between sorrow and joy.
All of the songs are based in folk and Americana music, but with Erlewine’s distinctive voice the unique twist.
Erlewine said it’s been challenging performing such personal songs live.
“This record has been the most difficult to perform live,” she said. “The songs are full of such personal emotions that it took a lot to get through the album each night. The audiences have been really supportive.”
More fans will be helping buoy Erlewine up through her music as she continues promotion for the new album, including an upcoming show as part of the Black Cat Concerts Series. So far, the risks she’s taken by sharing more of her life with her fans is a win-win for both sides.
“To stand on a stage and sing and play, and have someone sit and listen, is such a privilege,” she said. “To have folks tell me a song I wrote changed their life … that’s just over the top. I mean, what more could you hope for, really? I feel so very grateful.”
May Erlewine will be presenting her new album Sept. 4 at 8pm in a special performance at the Dhaseleer Events Barn in Charlevoix as part of the Black Cat Concerts Series. Seth Bernard will also be appearing. For tickets and more, visit mayerlewine.com or blackcatconcerts.com.