"I believe that a song being sung is one of the clearest views we ever have to witness how humans reach out for warmth with our art.”
— from “How to Write One Song” by Jeff Tweedy
That other fine Jeff comes closest in his books and interviews to getting at the seemingly magical process of writing a song and heartwarming feeling of making sonic connection with a listener. Of course, the ineffable nature of it means we can only go so far in cracking the code. And that's as it should be: The world could do with more good mysteries.
I know this much: 2023 represented peak creativity and connection for me. I released my fifth solo album, “Between the Commas,” and performing it in full to a sold-out crowd at Trinity House Theatre, a gem of a little venue in suburban Detroit. Making the album with ace co-producer, engineer and talented multi-instrumentalist Andy Reed (with assists from my Garrison Corner bandmates, George Luckey and Dan Houston) and playing it with those fine gents were high points of my musical journey. Everything fell into place and I felt that warmth flowing back and forth from audience to stage.
Other great musical moments came performing with Garrison Corner at Christ Episcopal Church Dearborn's summer concert series for the eighth (or ninth?!) time and two solo performances in Detroit: Palmer Park and Cadillac Square. I also had a bittersweet experience playing at Mode's Tavern in Bay City—sweet because I played for friends who hadn't seen me before in a musician-friendly venue, yet bitter because Mode's would be destroyed in a fire about a month later. The owners are great, community-focused people who are formulating ideas for the future, so we remain hopeful for some kind of return.
I figured it would be a while before I ventured back into a studio after “Between the Commas” because of time, financial and creative considerations, and I half-kept that promise. While taking a break from my day job at the University of Michigan, I found an empty ballroom with a Steinway piano in the Michigan Union, and decided it was the perfect opportunity to cut a demo of an original song I'd long hoped to record called “Last Call.”
The piano, of course, was great, and the acoustics in the room were superb. I captured a better-than-expected moment, and with the encouragement of Jonah Brockman, another outstanding producer and audio engineer, I wrote a string arrangement, recorded it in his studio and he beautifully mixed and mastered it all. I was so pleased it was featured on AmericanaUK's website.
A “corporate gig," which felt less so because I was hired by my friend, Jennette Smith Kotila, offered connections aplenty. I was in a room with folks I've known from my lifetime in journalism (and now academic PR) and I opened for the Arkells, a great Canadian band who stripped it down and brought the audience close in. Best part was getting to play with them—well, sort of: One of the members didn't have his acoustic guitar (a bus breakdown had them temporarily without much of the gear), so I gladly agreed to share mine. Artists helping artists is a good thing.
On a final note, I thank everybody who, in myriad ways, offered their support and connected with my music this past year. I try not to chase awards or accolades, but I can't help but be honored that my album was one of A2 Pulp's staff picks for 2023. I'm grateful to the publication, and of course, the author, Lori Stratton. She is an amazing friend to Michigan's indie artists and worthy of much praise.
So, here's to 2024. I wish you all peace in the new year and look forward to connecting with you—whether it be online or in person. I salute you for helping me keep this little indie train running!