2016 Didn't Suck That Much (At Least Not Musically)

There’s a rule in music…well, there’s a rule in my musical world:

If they hang out with Josh and Garth of The Rutabega, they make damn fine music.

This has held true through numerous events and opening acts. Really, the only exception I can think of is myself and, well, I don’t make any music at all. The rule certainly applies to what I deem my favorite find of 2016 (I really should come up with a name for this…the Golden Needle Award? The Drop Of The Year? Or maybe I shouldn’t).

I’m speaking of Jake Simmons & The Little Ghosts. I caught them while playing with The Rutabega at McCormick’s in South Bend and, while the late night show was making me feel a bit old, the music of JS&TLG revived me in a way I haven’t felt since I was a punk-ass kid watching Dave Kirchgessner of Mustard Plug hang from that weird bar above the two-inch stage at the original Intersection (cheers if you remember what I’m talking about).

JS&TLG make solid rock music, with high-energy dives into punk rock, blues, and, seemingly, whatever the hell sound they deem appropriate for each song. The bleeding guitars are best played on high volume and, hey, don’t be shy about singing along. Jake’s lyrics traverse the realms of quirky, angry, and sentimental, never once feeling anything but genuine.

As is often the case for me with my end of year favorites, most, if not all of the JS&TLG music I’m speaking of was released prior to 2016, but , hey, this was the year that I discovered it (you could chalk this up to my being slow and behind, but I prefer to blame it on the massive amount of great music being made today).

I’ve put together a Jake Simmons mixtape for you to check out some of my favorites. Make no mistake, though, as anything short of picking up the entirety of every release is simply shorting yourself of rock and roll greatness. And why would you do that to yourself? Check out that mix tape over on Spotify:

AtND Jake Simmons & The Little Ghosts Mix Tape

As for the rest of 2016, well, many claims have been made as to the negative nature of the year thanks to numerous deaths of our heroes, bad news stories, and the embarrassing and horrific election of Trump to the White House, but remember, nothing is all good or bad. Whatever else aside, 2016 certainly was a solid year for good music:

(Note: If you’re playing catch up, click on the album or song title to purchase the music from Amazon and help AtND pay the bills at the same time!)

Car Seat Headrest gave us Teens Of Denial, a rock album that finds new depth with each listen.

Amanda Palmer has found a prolific stride thanks to her reliance on Patreon, using the direct support of her fans to give us a constant supply of new and excellent music. It was by fortunate coincidence that AFP’s tour had hit my region the weekend after the election (not to mention the death of Leonard Cohen), giving me a place to process my shock, disappointment, and upset. The concert featured an emotional evening of music, with sing-alongs, scream-alongs, stomping, and crying. Amanda brought along guests, inviting Peter Sagal of NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and the Vice President of Illinois’ Planned Parenthood to deliver messages of love and action. Her husband, author Neil Gaiman, was in the room as well. He performed a reading (with Amanda backing him musically) of Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy” before spending much of his evening with their son in the back of the room, teaching him to walk a few feet from where I was standing (I put my fanboy away and just watched the moment in awe). Speaking of that reading of “Democracy”, you can pick that track up and, in the process, help out PEN America’s efforts to defend free speech by going here.

The Avett Brothers gave us their best album in years with True Sadness. You can check out my review of that here. I saw them too the weekend after the election, a last minute addition to my concert schedule that was the usual emotion packed evening from TAB, heightened so by current events. With protestors expressing similar feelings just around the corner from the Van Andel Arena, the crowd roared in defiance the line “your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected” during “Head Full Of Doubt, Road Full Of Promise“.

Swet Shop Boys brought us the Indian/Pakistan/American hip-hop album Cashmere, full of anger and commentary about our culture’s treatment of those of Middle Eastern descent (and not to mention all of those sick beats).

If you somehow missed it, Drive-By Truckers certainly broke new ground with American Band, giving us the American rock album we desperately need in our current culture.

And Charles Bradley gave us Changes, reminding us the true meaning of the word “soul” and recording an amazing cover of, oddly, Black Sabbath.

And we can’t forget all of the awesome coming from Grand Rapids’ The Crane Wives, giving us the epic Foxlore when I was still busy singing along with Coyote Stories and Safe Ship, Harbored. Watch for them in 2017. I expect amazing things.

Justin Wells returned from the ashes of Fifth On The Floor with one of the best American rock albums I heard all year in Dawn in the Distance, about his life as a musician, an outcast, and a father.

PUP gave us The Dream Is Over, a mischievous, loud, and ultimately fun punk rock record worthy of losing one’s voice while screaming along and playing far too loud.

So much good music. So whatever the “dumpster fire” view of 2016 you may have, remember unrest and upset makes for some fine music and certainly gives us a soundtrack for fighting the battles ahead. And, oh, do we have battles ahead.

I want to thank you all for another great year of support. Remember, if you love what we do, you can support us directly at our Patreon campaign or visit any of our sponsor links.

Let’s finish 2016 with our heads high and our hands ready for the battles of 2017. Until then, here’s to life.


Flint And Bottled Water (Updated)

UPDATE: I was digging back and came across a piece from the Washington Post last month. It shines a bit more light on the issue, including giving a bit more insight and understanding to the State Of Michigan’s side of the argument (insert counter-argument to ridiculous claims of media bias here).

One of the main arguments from the state is that the requirement of bottled water delivery would undermine other efforts to resolve the crisis. They seem to fall back continuously on the argument that many homes already have filters. Still, until all homes have filters or Virginia Tech has declared the water safe to drink without them, the most important piece of the effort should be first the daily availability to clean and safe water.


The news of late has been the attempts by the State of Michigan to have the November 10th ruling of Judge David Lawson overturned. The order: deliver bottled water to the Flint residents who do not have working filters installed.

The argument for the bottled water is pretty simple: plenty of citizens still have water that is dangerous to drink and have struggled with getting filters properly installed or traveling to the water distribution centers.

The State of Michigan is arguing that the water is indeed safe, matching federal standards. Virginia Tech water experts, however, disagree and are still urging citizens to avoid drinking piped water in homes that do not have filters.

Some citizens have chosen not use filters, deeming them untrustworthy, but it’s also true that installing the filters has barriers, a problem Lawson’s order also addressed.

Still, the state seems determined to avoid the responsibility. Putting the burden on the citizenry, who may not have the knowledge, the tools, or the physical ability to install filters, seems lacking in compassion, especially coming from the administration that was so complicit in the water crisis in the first place.

You can let Governor Rick Snyder know how you feel in a number of ways, but I encourage sending a physical letter, preferably handwritten. Let’s let them know how we feel.

Rick Snyder, P.O. Box 30013, Lansing, Michigan 48909

Phone and email information

The Crane Wives at The Living Room Series

The Crane Wives, The Living Room Series At The Hanson Theater, Benton Harbor, Michigan, September 30th, 2016

The promise of The Living Room Series at the Hanson Theatre has been the intimate experience brought by the small performing space and the universal emotions in the Americana music played there. This season’s debut, featuring The Crane Wives, elevated that closeness and brought the audience an evening unlike those experienced in standard music venues.

The Crane Wives, from Grand Rapids, quickly found their footing in the relaxed space. Early on, they referenced their own uncomfortableness in the room, it’s rounded shape leaving them “surrounded” by listeners and the quiet audience creating a void for them to fill between songs. Their admission immediately connected them to the audience and soon there was a regular banter, including a “Question & Answer” dialogue. This brought the strength of their music to the fore.

They are the most human of musicians; honest, flawed, and willing to acknowledge their own fears and divisions. Their lyrics are open, personal, and vulnerable and they brought that trait to the conversation with spectators. We were given insight to the stories behind the songs and the lifestyle of music the foursome lives, one they referred to as greatly familial, stating “we’re married to each other & each of our partners as well.”

Throughout the evening, we heard selections from the most recent of The Crane Wives albums, 2015’s “Coyote Stories” and this year’s “Foxlore”, as well as earlier cuts from the already growing library from the six-year old band. Their sound continues to expand with each release, blending the traditional sounds of folk and Americana with the energies of rock and pop.

//ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=anytheneedr04-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B0185INCJY&asins=B0185INCJY&linkId=b2c1e14435a18ad13f9289415480bad6&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=true&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=anytheneedr04-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B01DAKAMAY&asins=B01DAKAMAY&linkId=d6f90a5a18ed70400edf6b46297acde4&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=true&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffffThe Mendel Center rounded out the evening with an expanded attraction in form of food and beverage. The Livery was in the house serving up three of their craft beers, along with a selection of food samples from kitchen manager Becky Wehmer. Pizza fans were treated to standards such as pepperoni, but also unique topping combinations such as Thai BBQ Chicken and the uncommon deliciousness of “Taste Likes Stuffing”. Beer lovers were offered a presentation prior to the show, discussing the history of the Livery, one of the oldest craft breweries in the region, and their beer-making process.

With an evening full of local flavors and music, The Living Room Series has kicked off a solid new season. Music fans should keep an eye on The Hanson Theatre, as they are quietly building some the best seats for live music in Southwest Michigan.

Check out the latest released from The Cranes Wives on iTunes & Amazon and watch their tour schedule on TheCraneWives.com. Updates on The Hanson Theatre and The Living Room Series can be found at The Mendel Center website.

The Vinyl Experience


“I don’t play anything in my house but vinyl.”

Local musician Tom Moore is not adverse to the listening options of the digital age. While on the go, he will bring along an iPod or other digital device for portable listening. He keeps CDs around for his car. At his house, however, the speakers are only projecting music from his record collection.

We were recently discussing the world of vinyl after Tom had come into possession of a large record collection left to him after the passing of his friend, Neil Raby. He recalled tales of venturing out with Neil to store after store so they could both add to their libraries. His friend would pick up an album based on as little as an interesting musician name or attractive album cover. Together, they would explore genres and expand their tastes, leading to a library that is today full of stories.

“I absolutely love it,” Tom said. “The ritual, there’s something about it that’s so special to me, pulling the record out of the sleeve, cleaning them, the turntable. And there’s nothing like the sound of vinyl.”

After collecting for so long, Tom is pleased to see the resurgence of the format. He remembers coming home to find his teenage daughter sitting by his turntable with records spread out around her. Now she has a record player of her own and regularly plays vinyl.

“She caught the bug,” he said, recalling his daughter and her friends digging into his collection. “That was very heartwarming to witness.”

IMG_1320Matt, the owner of Niles record store Rumor Has It, is also pleased with the renewed popularity of vinyl. He has purchased and sold records for many years, maintaining a store front for the last five years. He pointed out to me that during the 2015 holiday season, turntables were the number one home audio item sold on Amazon.com and was one of the top-selling of all products.

“Tables being sold means records being eaten up,” he said.

He says that high schoolers and young kids account for nearly half of his business now.

“They’re buying everything. They’ll get some swing music, they’ll get Sinatra. They’re just trying to build their collection and find fun music.”

He credits the physical experience of records for a large part of the resurgence. Customers are able to take home a tangible product with liner notes, cover art, and photography included. New albums released on vinyl will often include a poster and typically offer a free digital download of the same music, giving listeners the convenience of the modern age coupled with the hands-on experience.

We discussed the adventure of the hunt for older records. He described customers coming in and spending hours digging through his selection of used vinyl, often bonding with each other and telling stories of where and when they found a long sought album. I related it to my own experience as a comic book collector, knowing that I could find any item on my wishlist on the Internet, but waiting for the fun of going to stores and conventions to dig through the collections.

“If they can find what they’re looking for during the search, that’s much more satisfying than buying on Amazon,” Matt said.

Matt works to keep his used collection constantly revolving for his customers. He also works to bring in new music on vinyl that is not as widely available, knowing that fans of independent music, punk rock, and other less radio friendly genres are always in need for a place to buy their music.

IMG_1319He, along with record stores across the nation, will be working hard to create a special experience this Saturday, April 16th, for the successful annual event, Record Store Day. Exclusive artist releases, special editions, and in-store events will highlight the growing vinyl culture. In it’s ninth year, this celebration of music and independent record stores continues to grow. More than a single event, Record Store Day has become an important piece in a movement to revive a love for a deep music experience, with promotion and support continuing throughout the entire year.

You can find more information on Record Store Day, including a list of this Saturday’s exclusive releases, as RecordStoreDay.com. Matt keeps customers up to date on new released, promotions, and live events for Rumor Has It at facebook.com/RumorStore. You can keep up with the latest music from Tom Moore by visiting facebook.com/TheMooreBrothers.

These piece created in part for Justin’s weekly column in Off The Water.