The holiday shopping season is under way and the gift of Michigan music is much-appreciated by fans in the Great Lake State. Here are reviews of several 2018 releases worth considering for your holiday list.
Greta Van Fleet, “Anthem of the Peaceful Army” — Suffice to say, this rock album already has drawn a deep line in the musical sand, separating those who are in Greta Van Fleet’s camp from the naysayers who most definitely are not. Take the overly scathing Pitchfork take on “Anthem of the Peaceful Army,” which reduced the high-flying boys from Frankenmuth to little more than a Spinal Tap gag and “more of an algorithmic fever dream than an actual rock band.” This snobbish dismissal of the phenomenon of Greta Van Fleet as merely a copycat of Led Zeppelin comes off as unfair to both bands. It also does little to explain the remarkable story of this buzz-generating sensation, a Michigan band zealously endorsed by wide-eyed teens as well as veteran icons like Elton John while selling out venues across the globe. And get this: “Anthem of the Peaceful Army” shot straight to No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart, an extraordinary debut. So while it’s certainly true that the young band’s hard-rock forays have oozed that head-turning, gee-that-could-be-Robert-Plant quality, digging deeper into the meteoric anomaly of the Kiszka brothers and drummer Danny Wagner reveals an aptitude for crafting intricate arrangements, soulful deliveries and rhythmically complex songs that owe as much to artists such as Rush and Albert King as they do to Led Zep. The band’s gritty “The Cold Wind” has gifted guitarist Jake Kiszka deftly blending Southern rock-fueled riffs with Jimmy Page-like sentiments and the entire 11-track collection will certainly tantalize those ready to embrace what’s often been described as the “future of rock.” There’s still a significant maturation process taking place lyrically with a band whose oldest members are just 22 years old, so who knows what might happen when they really hit their stride. Until then, consider this an anthem for the true believers.
Conrad Shock + The Noise, “Conrad Shock + The Noise” — If all goes well, sophomore albums are supposed to sound like this. “Conrad Shock + The Noise” represents the sort of progress in songwriting, arrangements and production that take a promising band (Local Spins named the Grand Rapids rock band its emerging artist of the year in early 2017) to the next level. As such, guitarist-singer John (Conrad) Schaak, guitarist Michael Pierce, drummer Bailey Budnik, bassist Koty Schoenberg and keyboard player Olivia Vargas have chosen from the get-go (take the opening track “Pills N’ Fruit”) to get ever more psychedelic with their brand of rock, smartly weaving healthy doses of blues and funk into the mix. Of course, the frontman’s distinctive voice and attitude help ensure that these infectious songs will rattle around your noggin all day. As such, there are plenty of standout tracks here, from the fuzzed-out guitar muscle of “Rubble” to the surfy “Lonetown” to the head-bobbing “Outside the Dream,” with its delectable, ’60-styled guitar and organ flavors. It’s an album calculated to induce multiple listens — with the volume cranked all the way up.
Michigan Rattlers, “Evergreen” — Some bands just ooze authenticity — a natural sort of honesty that permeates lyrics and melodies with a casually intoxicating aura. Michigan Rattlers are that kind of outfit, proving it on their full-length debut album, from the opening lines of “Just Good Night” to the final notes of “The Heat.” Alternately described as an Americana or folk-rock group, the Petoskey-bred Rattlers — guitarist Graham Young, upright bassist Adam Reed and pianist Christian Wilder — actually uncork country music the way it’s supposed to be written and played. The addition of keyboards to the Michigan Rattlers’ sound can only be described as pure genius, augmenting their alt-country ambience with perfectly tasty piano and organ accents. And while the boys may reside in L.A. these days, most of their songs resonate with a Midwestern flair and a fetching twang, rife with tales of nostalgic Michigan evenings, back porch beers, wiping snowflakes off of windshields and “Late Night Cigarette Talks.” Not surprisingly, considering how often these guys crisscross the country, these are also songs from the road, perfectly capturing the sentiments of longing, regret and fond memories sparked by the life of troubadours.
Roosevelt Diggs, “Better Days” — There’s plenty of raw power in the music of Roosevelt Diggs, balanced by engaging moments of poignant tenderness and insights into life’s hard lessons. The West Michigan Americana/bluegrass/alt-country band’s first studio album in four years — recorded at Third Coast Recording in Grand Haven – marks a major step forward for the popular outfit, as the group brilliantly blends its acoustic charm with piano accents and growling electric guitars, enhanced by in-studio contributions from Adrian and Meredith Krygowski, Joe Hettinga, Daphne Shears and Jack Clark. The Duddles brothers, Levi and Logan, at times even display a smidgen of punk attitude — a nod to the music they grew up with — buoyed by the solid rhythm section of bassist Jon Shears and drummer John Ellsworth. From melancholy, harmony filled, tale-of-tragedy ballads such as “Brookside” to the Bo Diddley beat on “Life of Sin,” the band shows its mettle as a real musical force in the region with well-crafted songs and heartfelt performances. When they sing on the title track that “I feel the cold air creeping in,” you can actually feel the chill. And on “Everything As It Was,” they leave listeners with a simple but potent message: “Sometimes what you’re wishing for seems what you think want … but not what you need.” It all makes this one of West Michigan’s most compelling releases of 2018.
Brotha James, “Abracadabra” — This is pure Brotha James exuberance. The latest from Brotha James, also known as Jeremy Reisig, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and looping phenom from Elk Rapids, reflects the upbeat nature of this uplifting purveyor of positivity. Incorporating everything from hip hop to rock to pop, soul, funk, reggae and disco into his songs and his performances, Brotha James has created his signature recording with “Abracadabra,” subtitled “With These Words I Create.” Release of the album — chock full of feel-good, uplifting material — is paired with release of a book, “With Our Words: We Create,” which explains “the stories behind the songs” along with encouraging words about wiping out negativity in your life, something that resonates with kids as well as adults. “Abracadabra” may be the perfect description of this collection, because it’s a magical ride that will leave you smiling … and shaking your booty. And that what also makes him a standout live act.
Find more West Michigan music news and concert listings at LocalSpins.com. Email John Sinkevics at firstname.lastname@example.org.