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With the diverse music scene right here in the Twin Ports sometimes it’s easy to forget that there is plenty of music going on just an hours drive up the South Shore of Lake Superior which features many genres and styles of music and is indeed unique. The new compilation album “The South Shore Sound” has a wide variety of talented artists and proves there’s a little more going on up the shore than just Big Top Chautauqua.
The compilation starts off appropriately with the song “I Know Everyone” by the group Stinkfoot which features Corey Carlson who has been playing in the Chequamegon Bay area for what must be at least a couple of decades. The chorus states the fact that in small northwoods towns after a few years it’s fairly easy to get to know pretty much “everyone.” “Why does anybody hang around? It’s sure enough to bring a body down, I know everyone in this town.” The song in itself is a catchy bluegrass tune that quickly cuts straight to the hook of the chorus which is highlighted by vocal harmonies and fiddle.
Another mainstay of the Bayfield music scene is Marky Baby Rossow. It’s possible that if you’ve ever been to Bayfield and seen a solo performer playing “downtown” on Rittenhouse Ave. or in a pub or coffee house, there’s a good chance it was Marky Baby. His song on the compilation titled “With Just My Saxophone” is a jazzy soul number with a smooth groove to it. Marky built this song track by track which is impressive because besides the guitar and bass, there is at least a couple of horns and the real kicker is an organ solo on a Gibson G-101 through a wah pedal.
The next track is by Madeline Island native Jason Melek with his swinging bluesy track “Hide and Seek.” The song is fairly minimal with a briskly strummed acoustic and a tambourine.
It would seem wrong to have an album that represents this specific areas music without representing some of the music of the people who originally inhabited this area. The Crossroads Singers are an 11 person group of Native American singers from the Odanah and Lac Du Flambeau tribes. Their track “Intertribal” and all of the tracks on the album were recorded at the “Weight Room” by producer/engineer Ryan Rusch in Washburn, WI. When asked about how he recorded such a group, Rusch explained that he hung two condenser mics over the drum in the middle of the group, “just out of reach of their sticks.” He also incorporated room mics and put a sub-kick mic in the drum itself. “I don’t know how people are doing that, but that’s what I did,” said Rusch.
Track five is a alt-folk tune by Cory Davis, it is pretty and simple and has a beautiful organ and harmonica that accent the minimal yet effective strummed acoustic guitar. Davis is a “transplant” from the Hudson area in central Wisconsin and was in town for just three weeks when he ended up contributing to this compilation. He now currently works for South Shore Brewing in Ashland.
There is a bit of collaboration going on in this album and this is especially true with the track “Scatter” which was co-written between Heidi Howes and Ryan Rusch. There is a definite electronic feel to this somber pop-ballad. The music arrangement was built by Jay Alton in Columbus, OH and the song was created by corresponding back and forth. Rusch and Howes performed this track at a songwriters competition at Big Top Chautauqua a couple of years back.
The next track titled “Rock n’ Roll Star” is another song by Corey Carlson. The song is anything but rock but rather slow and kind of sad, it’s almost like a lullaby. “Now you’re playing in a shitty bar, where nobody knows who you are, and you’re going to whore what’s in your heart because you want to be a rock n’ roll star,” goes part of one of the verses. What struck me was the percussion in this song which just had a really weird but cool sound to it. It’s just an even thump of what sounds like a kick and the snap of a snare that is played slowly and steadily throughout the song. It turns out that the kick is actually a piano being thumped from the back while it’s sustain pedal is pressed down and the snare is being hit by a broom.
There is a number of interesting techniques that went into this album, but the most interesting track on this album is by far the song “Flicker” by Miraculous Meaningless featuring Casey Frechette. The song starts with a surreal mix of sound effects which Rusch explains is a sound collage that is “supposed to be a lifetime condensed into a minute and a half.” The song eventually gets going but carries an avant-garde edge throughout and get’s really crazy when it breaks down and Frechette’s vocals are distorted with some sort of pitch shifting. There’s honestly too much going on with this song to fully describe. It ends off with this eerie horn part that lays over the sound of crackling and burning. It’s certainly a listening experience.
The next track is by Rusch’s own band Professor Hefner who have been playing for nearly 15 years. The group started as hardcore punk but their sound has evolved over the years. The song “Schema” holds back in contemplative light pop-metal and then it let’s go and Rusch brings his almost signature aggressive shrieks into the mix that is held down by galloping palm muted punk chops.
Likewise, the next track “Still Standing” by the group The Side Project is also punk, but in a fun poppy kind of way. The band consists of Kjell Kvanbeck, Corbin Rice and Ben Sargent and they rock out a great song on this album.
The song “Strawberry Summer” by Alpha City is a kind of feel good summer tune about hanging out with girls in the area. The song is filled with references to the area; things like getting a “cabin in Corny” and “dive deep off the coal dock” make it obviously about the South Shore area. Alpha City features Mark Phillips who also plays with groups like the Liz Woodworth Trio and Fido and the Love Dogs.
The track “Fooling Our Senses” by Nathan Parent is a beautiful and bittersweet song that is mixed with electronic elements but has acoustic drums, violin and a trumpet. The female vocal parts are absolutely amazing in this song that is mixed with gorgeous harmonies. The tracks were done by a woman named Katherine from Toronto and she sent her vocals “remotely” to be added to the song. Her part really makes this song, “we grabbed what we liked and mixed it in,” explained Rusch. The violin in the song was played by Lisa Gilbaugh a UMD student.
The final track is “May I Be So Brave” by the group Range Debris. It is a very laid back and beautiful number. I’m glad they put this on the very end because it’s eight minutes long, but that’s not to say it’s not a great song. The group has Christine Pedretti on vocals and she does a wonderful job. The talents of Tom Fabjance on drums and Jordon Grunow on guitar add to this very cool song.
All in all this compilation is terrific, the variety of genres and talent changes throughout and is a great reflection of music coming from that part of the woods. There’s really nothing to complain about with this and there shouldn’t be. The final mastering was done by none other than Dave Hill of Inland Sea in Superior. When asked about Dave Hill, Rusch simply replied, “he’s a genius.” Dave Hill designs audio equipment for his company Cranesong and his units are sought after worldwide for their craftsmanship. Visit cranesong.com for more information on Hill’s rack mounts.
The albums cover was designed by a local woman, Jessie Van Stappen, who now lives in Portland, OR and makes her living as a tattoo artist. The album depicts the Chequamegon Bay with Bayfield, Washburn and Ashland highlighted. There are a number of satellite dishes that lay over top of this. “The significance of the satellites, the obvious being the sounds of the musicians of the South shore broadcasting into the world via this album. I also saw the satellites as receivers, incorporating disparate influences from across the globe but united by their locale. Thirdly each satellite is unique but recognizably similar, which I thought suited the artists on a compilation album,” said Van Stappen about the design.
The album can be found at “thesouthshoresound.bandcamp.com.” It can be streamed for free or downloaded in it’s entirety for $5. In order to get a physical CD, you’ll have to just visit the beautiful South Shore, there are copies available at some gift and coffee shops in the Bayfield/Washburn area.