Sunday Sampler Week 3: Friends in High Places
Another week, another great opportunity to check out new music!
This week, I decided to start a series within this series, a feature I like to call “Friends in High Places.” This playlist focuses on musicians that I have met in my experiences as a musician, people that are great to be around and work hard at their craft. I may have also been a part of their projects too, which is always fun to do. Being a musician with other busy musician friends, it’s hard to see their shows or be on top of everything that they do, but this playlist serves to highlight some great musicians!
All of these performers work in Michigan, mainly on the west side of the state and most of them live in my hometown, Grand Rapids. Hope you enjoy! Feel free to share other artists from your homes in the comments if you have recommendations!
(Note: The new deadline for this will be evening on Sundays, shooting for ahead of 8 pm)
Maybe by Benjaman James
I recently met Benjaman James through some mutual friends who had been gigging with him over the past year. Since he’s a Traverse City native, I’m not often that far north because it’s a long drive from Grand Rapids. When this past summer wrapped up, I had the chance to carpool up to fill in on a gig with him and I got to see what a hard-working, fun-loving musician he was to work with on these gigs. He’s an MSU grad that focused on engineering and music, and from the first gig I worked with him I could see he had a clear plan for his music from budgeting recording time to booking some great events. I got to play a live taping at InsideOut Gallery of Stateside with Cynthia Canty (Michigan Public Radio) as the house band with him! This track is off of his recently released debut EP titled Growing Pains, featuring some great music and some awesome Michigan talent!
City of Sin by Eric Engblade
Eric Engblade is a West Michigan staple in folk driven singer-songwriter music that’s been engaging audiences for years! I unknowingly saw him live with his previous group, Northern Skies, at Festival of the Arts, at first only noticing that our mutual friend Jeremy Niemeier (formerly in Fauxgrass, toured with Shawn MacDonald) was on stage shredding on his electric violin. I then met him through mutual friends that gig with him frequently, and the rest is history! I’ve had some shows with him while gigging with The GravesTones (Billy’s Lounge, Founders Brewing, etc) and I’ve gotten to see him perform a couple times outside of that, and I’m always impressed with his stage presence and ability to connect with an audience. He’s a talented musician, a great friend to many, and soon to be a father! I encourage you to check out his shows and buy his album!
Bluenose Baby by Megan Dooley
I first saw Megan Dooley perform solo on a New Year’s Eve show at Rockford Brewing Company, one that included The GravesTones. She had such a great sound to her music, a simple duo of guitar or ukulele with her voice. Her inspiration draws from a bevy of American styles from blues to folk to jazz and back again, all the while engaging audiences with her friendly personality. Her album, Made in Kalamazoo, is a testament to her roots in the area, as she grew up in the city, continues to perform around the area, had her album funded by the Kalamazoo Arts Council, and she continues to run the Wednesday night open mic at Louie’s Trophy House Grill, a venue that I was introduced to from a show with a group called Mizpah. Go look up her website, bring the whole family and all of your friends to her next show, you’re in for a treat!
We’re So Lonely by Vox Vidorra
So this group is one of my favorites around town, because they have that classic old school vibe with new school applications. They have a solid band, great song writing, and they wrap it all up in a great live show that has taken them very far over the past few years. Plus, when you zoom in on the other aspects of the band, you see that the singer and her bass-playing husband recently opened Creston Brewery, a place that not only makes its own unique brew selections but also serves up a Mexican inspired menu! Gotta love musicians that dig great eats and drinks! This track has a music video showing different parts of Grand Rapids, which is always fun to see, and these guys are all great people! I had the pleasure of meeting them at a show put together at Mexicains Sans Frontieres, one of the premiere independent venues in town. It was Brad Fritcher + Trois, Vox Vidorra, and Modern Mayors, three awesome groups rocking a great party/show, one definitely for the books! Check out this group’s debut album, go eat all their tasty food, and check out their website for details on their shows!
A Clever Disguise of a Human to a Mongoose by The Underground Circus
This group was a lot of awesome things, more than just quirky titles hinting at music off the beaten path. This was a collection of great musicians from around Grand Rapids rallying behind bearded bass man Justin Avdek to realize a vision he’s had for the last few years. Combining the exploratory natures of jazz, the fierce identity built around funk, and the genre bending styles of fusion, we have an album that was successfully realized at Amber Lit Audio. It includes tunes mainly by Avdek, with some contributing tunes and ideas from the rest of the group. Get down with some weird funk, tell a friend, hit up the project’s Facebook page to contact for gigs and to buy an album!
Rise and Shine by Cameron Blake
Cameron Blake is a singer-songwriter I met over the summer who had already been recording a sizable album with a lot of the same friends that turned me on to Benjaman James (and recorded his album too). The man is a poet, a charitable man, and an artist who elevates his poetry through folk infused instrumentations with classical nods. His new album boasts collaborations with jazz artists, symphony musicians, and choirs with arranged parts! He’s built up a following over his years and he’s built up quite a sum in supportive donations towards this large project, account for every minute expenditure to realize his vision. I encourage you to go see his shows, his music can be both moving and getting you up and moving!
Canoe by Steve Talaga (ft. Andy Szumowski & Tom Lockwood)
This album, a solid release that dropped a few years ago, features a great trio of great jazz professionals that can be found in West Michigan. I met Steve Talaga in high school at the Aquinas College Jazz Camp, where Tom Lockwood could also be found, and I met Andy Szumowski at a local show in Grand Rapids. I believe it might have been the same Vox Vidorra show mentioned above! This album shows their tight musicianship, attention to finer details when recording jazz born out of a traditional sound, and their creative expressions on their respective instruments. You can check online to find out more about their projects/backgrounds, and I definitely encourage you to find a chance to see them play! They may be involved in other projects, but it just shows how communicative and collaborative the jazz scene is in West Michigan.
Let Go by All Is Well
I was introduced to this band simply by knowing my percussionist buddy and fellow GVSU graduate, Nathan Coles, who drums for the band. Since first seeing their album release show at The Pyramid Scheme, I’ve tracked this group’s progress over the past couple of years, and it’s exciting to watch. They went from hours of rehearsals and putting out an EP to consistently playing shows that connect their sound with like-minded audiences and bands around the Midwest. They’ve opened for groups like Little Tybee and This Town Needs Guns, in addition to regularly collaborating with local artists like The Fever Haze. If you’re a fan of indie post-rock goodness, look no further than these guys. I was happy to even book them at Mulligan’s over the summer, they were so gracious in accepting! Go show these guys love on their website and check out their tunes!
Movin On by Isaac Norris
I’ve known this man since I was in grade school with his two kids, but I had no idea he was an active musician on the Grand Rapids scene until I did a year in Big Band Nouveau and found out he was in the tenor sax section. Since reconnecting, I’ve seen him hustle and work hard to put out the tunes he wants to create, all while taking care of a family and working as an architect. He’s a clear example that no schedule can deny motivation to make music, so get hip to his album and check out the next show The Isaac Norris Project puts together! (Also, I recorded the synth solo on this track!)
Love Vertigo by Andy Frisinger
I met Andy through a gigging opportunity subbing in for some gigs, and I got to know him and his band’s style over the course of a couple years! It was awesome to mix his brand of grooving music with classic tunes from the likes of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Jamiroquai (to name a few). He slays on saxophone, soothes on vocals, and he’s all about putting on a fun show and enjoying the company of his musicians, both on and off stage. He’s a Grand Haven musician you’ve gotta go see, and you also better be ready for his next release! Check out his website to find out when he’s playing next! Word on the street is he is working on new music too!