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Mixtape: 2017’s “Under-the-Radar” albums from West Michigan bands

Dec 5, 2017

This month, we’ll look back at three of 2017’s “Under-the-Radar” albums by West Michigan bands; three terrific recordings folks might have overlooked.

The Turnips - StopWatchTimeDrop

The Turnips started in Big Rapids in 2010 and despite some lineup changes, released their sophomore album at the beginning of 2017 (in fact, it was the first regional album reviewed by Local Spins this year). With a jam band vibe, the group plays a dizzying blend of funk, prog-rock, soul, blues and folk, and so it’s not surprising it shares a couple of its members – guitarist Andy Kirby and drummer Joe Phillion – with the uber-popular Grand Rapids-based jam band Ultraviolet Hippopotamus, which has long been a favorite on the jam-band festival scene around the country. As Sinkevics put it in his review, "The Turnips will make your head spin … and that’s a very good thing." The album was recorded at Grand Haven’s Third Coast Recording with co-production by Joe Hettinga and Seth Bernard, and the band also features Josh Wilson on keyboards, Zach Potter on bass and new guitarist Austin Benzing. From the opening salvo of “Bon Jon Brovi,” the recording shows that The Turnips have come a long way from their humble roots, showcasing well-crafted music from a mature and eclectic bunch. And while they don’t play out very often anymore – with other musical projects occupying their time – this 10-song collection is a real gem that perfectly displays what this group is all about.

Cosmic Knot - Inner Space

There really is no other band quite like Cosmic Knot. Based in Grand Rapids and led by Fremont guitarist and singer-songwriter Tom Wall, this band occasionally refers to its music as “gypsycore,” but it really defies description – with psychedelic and prog-rock flavors on some tracks, and gypsy swing, blues and jazz on others. With its groovy charm, it’s not surprising that this under-the-radar album has made some headway on national college radio charts since it was released in late July. Calling on respected West Michigan musicians such as Hayaman Mana Tzach, Zach Gregory, Rolly Smith, Justin Wierenga, Justin Avdek, Brad Fritcher and Joe Hettinga, Cosmic Knot goes boldly where no band has gone before. For one thing, and something that certainly makes the group unusual, Wall insists that all of his uplifting music be tuned to 432 Hz (as opposed to the traditional A-440 tuning) because some maintain that music created by instruments tuned this way has a healing and soothing quality about it. As Wall puts it, the band “is trying to promote as much positivity as humanly possible” and “using music to improve lives.” In August, Cosmic Knot won the best song contest at Grand Haven’s Walk the Beat festival for the track, “Like a Gypsy,” which appears on this debut album. The band plays a benefit show on Dec. 15 at Park Theatre in Holland, then goes back into the recording studio in January and February to work on a new EP.

The Zannies - Espejos

This is the most recent album on my “under-the-radar” list and quickly rose to the top of my list of favorite regional releases of the year. The Zannies are a Grand Rapids rock band that was formed as a basement solo project a few years ago by bassist and singer Ben Steer. The group, which features Eric Satterlee and Peter Slack on guitars and Josh Worsham on drums, puts its own stamp on music in what I’ve called “a wondrously muscular carnival of rock ‘n’ roll that’s part alt-rock, part psychedelic rock, part raw blues, part rockabilly and part melodic balladry.” Ben’s got a truly distinctive and versatile voice that’s well-suited to this band’s inventive approach. Recorded and mixed by Don Carlisle at Knavish Audio, the cool thing about this album is how it really takes a step forward from the band’s debut EP, which in and of itself was pretty impressive. The band plays Rocky’s Bar & Grill in Grand Rapids on Jan. 11.

John Sinkevics is editor and publisher of the LocalSpins.com website which covers West Michigan's music scene.

Support for arts and culture coverage comes in part from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

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