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Michigan Homegrown

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REVIEWS by William Shea


Chris Buhalis - Kenai Dreams - Thursday Records

Ann Arbor's Thursday Records has taken to recording and promoting some of our stronger local talents. Chris Buhalis is such an artist. The craftsmanship, musicianship and talent of this rootsy balladeer in his latest recording, Kenai Dreams, jumps right in your face. Each of the 12 songs are strong in their own right, but the opening "Kenai Dreams" is a marvelously constructed bit of folksy balladry. Jeff Plankenhorn's dobro fits fine with Buhalis' baritone. Even the croaking vocalizing of famed Townes Van Zant cannot injure this fine example of musical imagery presented by Buhalis.

Not only are the music and production very good on this recording throughout, but Buhalis' lyrics are compelling and often downright great. For instance on "Time" he sings: "time runs like water going through my kitchen running down my drain l should've seen it coming love's just a running being chased by pain." Even when not filled with interesting allusions, Buhalis' lyrics are pointed and poignant. On "Employee 1209," a pro-union song, Buhalis' character declares, "because there's a wrong and then there's a right and when it's wrong you fight and there's no time in this old world to sit and cry."

Kenai Dreams is highly recommended.


Adam Druckman - Deserve You - Turnabout Records

The latest by Adam Druckman (another local), Deserve You, shows a musician enamored with a great turn of phrase. His lyrics are often piercing, witty, and heart-wrenching and are the strength of this work.

Generally employing a full electric ensemble, Druckman's music is edgy. Sometimes, where the production frames his thin tenor perfectly, the listener assumes that a tune s going in a folk direction replete with a soft acoustic accompaniment. Then, all of a sudden, the sound becomes hard, electric, screaming. The transition from soft folk to a harder edge makes for some interesting musical switches. Just when a musical phrase could get hackneyed - images jump in your face, forcing you to pay attention to the catchy word play and interesting doublé entendre (e.g., the line "I don't deserve you anymore" could mean l'm not good enough to deserve you or l'm too good to deserve you. It's a great play on words which strengthens the overall effect of this recording.)

Perhaps the strongest piece on this recording is "Kathy (At The Bar)." The singer hears from a fríend about his ex-lover and her new man. The singer frets and wonders about what she is wearing but doesn't want to know because if it's better than what she wore with him, he'd know for sure that it's all over ("Did she show me her very best?"). What a great scenario reflecting the full emotional range we often feel but can't put into words.

Although Druckman's singing is not especially strong, the emotion he squeezes from the rather flat nasal tones add power and emphasis to his lyrical points of view. The yodel effect on "Paperdoll" is wonderful - full of angst and pain - a perfect synthesis of the emotion and musicfound in the tune. It offers a certain authenticity, like much of the material on this recording, that is compelling and worth a listen.


Amón - Amón - Joe Slanga Records

Lansing based Amón offers a striking recording. Singing in an appealing tenor and accompanying himself primarily on guitar, Amón plays slow personal ballads that offer enough musical and lyrical interest to warrant a second listen. Three cuts stand out: a soulful blues number entitled "Hard Times"; the poetic and provocative "All In This Place"; and the compelling "Closer Than My Heart." All three show Amon to be a skilled guitarist and a talented vocalist. With a supportive ensemble and a touch of electric guitar, this nascent artist could have even greater appeal. He visits Ann Arbor often. Check him out.


Train - Train - Aware Records

The connection with Michigan of this California band is Aware Records. Now based in Chicago, this company started out in East Lansing producing compilations of independent artists from around the country. Their five CDs are available at local stores, and by and large, they all offer good samples of strong acts.

This CD, featuring Train, a great pop/rock group from California, is first-rate. Consisting of Jimmy Stafford and Rob Hotchkiss on guitars; Scott Underwood, drums; Charlie Colin, bass; it is the strong emotive vocals of Pat Monahan that more or less define the group. At times his vocals are soaring, other times strident, but always in control, even during the strongest screams and the quietest whispers. This fellow can flat out sing.

The instrumental accompaniment is likewise strong. With a hint of country, a lot of rock, with a twist of jam-rock, their music is as catchy as any pop music. But by using two guitarists their music is heavy enough to keep the tunes satisfying for the most rigid of head-bangers. Two cuts in particular are great - "Meet Virginia" and Tree." The production throughout is top-notch and stands up to constant listening. Piek this one up today.

Comments? Questions?

Tapes, CDs, etc., may be sent to: AGENDA, ATTN: Music Dept., 220 S. Main St., Ann Arbor, Ml 48104


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