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Monday, May 29, 2017

The Lawnmower Playlist (Part Deux): New Music for a New Summer

New Tunes and New Grass
As the school year winds down and preparations begin for my action filled summer of "People, Places and Music (with some fishing tossed in)", I find myself adrift in that dreaded morass of maintenance, cleanup and lawn care that consumes far too many beautiful, sunny days.  The last of these--the lawn--is most heinous this year; with abundant, soaking rains and warm, sunny days partnering  to keep my lawn "April Fresh" all the way into June!  As you may recall from last year, the month of May seems to also bring a flood of new, interesting music to help while away the tedious hours of suburban toil and help maintain a modicum of sanity in an otherwise bustling and too-busy world.  This year is no exception, and I thought I would  share a few with the SeMiBluegrass audience to help them over the final hump and into summer.  I tried to put links to where you can purchase their music as well (and support live, local music--the best way to beat the pre-summer blahs!).

Kinda Says It All Right There
While not a local musician, I became aware of the "Rock and Roll King" Robert R. McFarland when he ordered a custom 5-string banjo from Companion Custom Banjos.  No "weekend folkie" Open Back banjo  or "Bro Country Wannabee" six-string Banjotar for this picker, but a 100% bluegrass-style 5-sting resonator.  When Robert saw the mention of his "sun and moon banjo" in that review, he graciously sent me a copy of his superb double-CD Rock and Roll.  Much like his chosen electric genre, the album is anything but subtle, presenting roughly two dozen hard-driving, in-your-face, original rock songs on the two discs named (again, no subtlety) "Rock" and "Roll".  I've actually put quite a few mile on this CD--literally and figuratively--as a coping mechanism for my other Michigan spring pet peeve--construction delays.   This immaculately arranged and recorded collection is perfect when you just want to hit play, tune out  and let the music carry you to your destination.  While every song features McFarland on vocals and lead guitar, there is an incredible diversity of sounds here that make each song unique.  His powerful and soulful voice ranges from a gravelly baritone to a bell-clear tenor and hints at a barely contained explosion of emotion waiting to be released upon the listener.  Instrumentally, he pushes his Gibson SG to the very limit of versatility; dripping with tone and equally complex whether playing clean or  impossibly compressed.  Like many great guitarists, he blends lavish rhythm licks with complex leads to build a wall of sound you'd expect from two (or more) well-rehearsed guitarists.  McFarland does spread his bluegrass wings a couple of time.  My Dog''s Name is Rusty is a straight-forward, cowboy chord bluegrass standard featuring Robert's take on bluegrass flatpicking and some killer Lester Flatt G-runs.  On another song, he blends some killer mandolin rhythm licks in the introduction to a smoking hot blues-rock number--completely unexpected and completely awesome (like this whole album).  Your can find Robert R. McFarland's music HERE and HERE, but order the CD from CD Baby (because of the shipping notification--duh).

Mandatory SemiBluegrass Listening!
Two years ago, at a Jameson-fueled 2AM jam at the Wheatland Music Festival, I met a talented singer/multi-instrumentalist, Nate Roberts, from the west side of the state.  Nate reached out to me to let me know of a stripped-down, heavily bluegrass influenced project he's been working on--The Field Hymnal.  This "indie-grass" band has a unique sound built around Robert's songwriting and virtuoso mandolin picking behind Angelee Berrian's plaintive and sorrowful vocals.  The band fills out the sound with Luke Panning's swirling fiddle melodies and rock solid rhythm of Jared DeMeester on Bass.  Their sound is contemporary and traditional at the same time, and features some incredible harmony singing.  The band is currently running a small Kickstarter campaign to finance printing of their new CD, The Meaning of a Tree.  I highly recommend you give them a listen, both bluegrass aficionados and devotees of modern, local music will find something you love here.

The One and Only "Huggy Bear" and his Dobro
True story: after I'd been playing bluegrass for like six weeks, I had the opportunity to travel to Marquette and play on stage with some friends as the opening act for a small indoor bluegrass festival. It was a completly forgettable performance.  That is not true for the  band that followed--The Flatbellys (of Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys).  It was here I first meet the one-of-a-kind bluegrass/Americana talent that is Mark Lavengood.  In addition to his work with The Flatbellys, Mark has been slowly making his mark on the Michigan (and National!) bluegrass scene with his Mark Lavengood Bluegrass Bonanza project--an oft-evolving collection of pickers and singers dedicated to bringing high-octane bluegrass music to a live venue near you!  While it may be akin to catching a lightning bolt in a bottle (or maybe a mason jar), Mark has captured the soul and essence of this bluegrass adventure in his new CD, We've Come Along.   Featuring the incomparable Jason Dennie on mandolin and a cast of first-rate pickers, the album ranges from fairly traditional bluegrass fare--check out Ole Slew Foot--to unmistakably contemporary idie-folk ballads like Three Day Blow and even a tongue-in cheek cover of a mid-80s classic, Hungry Heart.  First rate entertainment for one and all.  Check our Mark's Kickstarter HERE, or--better yet--come see him play the songs live at his CD Release concert at the Ark in Ann Arbor on June 1st (with special guests, The Native Howl)

Into the Darkness with The Native Howl
Speaking of the The Native Howl, you may remember I've written about them and their take on acoustic/metal/folk music Thrashgrass in the past.   Ten million FaceBook video views later the band is kicking off nationwide summer tour that schizophrenically pairs headlining gigs at The Wisconsin Blueberry Festival with The Stoned Meadow of Doom FestTo prime the summer pump, the band is preparing to release their project Into the Darkness the day before their show at the Ark.  The album promises to be an exploration of the darker, more thrashy side of thrashgrass fueled by lead-man Alex Holycross' near-demonic "metal voice" and doomsday inspired, go-for-broke drumming of Joshua Lemieux.  Paired with Mark Chandler's lightning fast work on the base and guitar/vocal/banjo/harp from Jake Sawicki, this will be an album that is hard to ignore.  The band--masters of social media--have managed to remain fairly tight-lipped about the project, other than an occasional snippet of a lyric, photo shoot or video released to build the suspense.  You should definitely check them out, and buy the album when it comes out.

The Gasoline Gypsies
I actually met The Native Howl as part of the North Winds Tour they did with their friends The Gasoline Gypsies who, coincidentally, also have a new album coming out this July 1.  Driven by the intensly talent songwriting and lead guitar of frontman Caleb Malooley, the Gypsies deliver pure, Detroit-style (they would argue Port Huron Style) modern rock-and-roll with a folk music sensibility.  Bassist Steve Briere and drummer Joe Makowski are arguably the best rhythm section partners in the state right now, and their music has incredible drive and energy in large part from this pair's contribution.   With new rhythm/lead guitarist Neal Love, the new songs that have leaked out have all the energy of their past album, with a new level of intricacy and musicianship.   I was pleased to learn the band has booked a gig at the Forestville Music/Beer Festival in Marquette--a venue tailor made for them.  Music fans in Marquette, watch out, you're in for a treat under the trees.

So, with summer around the corner, get out there, tune in, and turn on some new music.  It's out there.  And it's really, really good! 

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