Artists

ELIZABETH BUTTERS



“I feel that there’s a little bit of hope
in acknowledging the sad aspects of life.”

–Elizabeth Butters

One part Bonnie Parker, one part Maybelle Carter, two parts Addie Pray (or, as a friend more concisely described her, “the adorable singer girl with the shotgun”): that’s Elizabeth Butters.

Elizabeth performs mostly traditional and folk songs, but has an untaught (and probably unlearnable) ability to take old sounds, make them sound new, then make them sound old all over again, by threading them through her own identity, which is deeply rooted in the past.

Some people react to folk music—or even to the mere term itself—as if if they’d like to re-enact Belushi’s response in Animal House. But this ain’t your “I Gave My Love A Cherry”-type stuff. Vocal histrionics are often passed off as soulfulness, but at the heart of Elizabeth’s plain-tone singing you’ll recognize genuine passion.

Though her repertoire shows a strong mindfulness of mortality, she never comes across as morbid. And how wouldn’t songs of melancholy, mayhem, and murder—whether plaintive blues or Appalachian murder ballads and death songs—be augmented by the agreeable incongruity of a guileless, honey-caramel voice?

The sorrow you’ll hear in that voice is real, not forced or fake, and Elizabeth’s love of the past is in no sense a pose. Affectation just doesn’t seem to be in her nature. (Her MySpace name, winslowhealthandhygieneseries, should give you some indication of her preoccupations.) The antiquarian and documentarian impulses she pursues began as a bulwark against her fear of a (hypothetical) onset of dementia: as if Elizabeth wanted to leave herself clues she could use to mentally piece herself back together. She strives to be faithful not only to a period’s music, but also to its look. She brings to her work an archivist’s love of authentic clothing. Even her Halloween costumes are vintage. Her whole demeanor and presentation approach performance art (but in a good and genuine way).

Despite Elizabeth’s obviously heartfelt wistfulness, listening to her sing is the opposite of depressing. If you’re like me, she’ll often make you smile and laugh. Some old philosopher once said something or other about the reconciliation of opposites, and listeners to Elizabeth Butters are likely to find themselves fascinated by the tension between her cheerful, unaffected voice and the seemingly morose and gruesome subject matter of some of the songs. Her enunciation and her New Hampshire accent give her an apparent innocence, even on, for example, the blue notes of “Crow Jane.” Elizabeth has said she’d love to be a circus trick rider, and her voice somehow pulls off the trick of simultaneously riding Innocence and Worldweariness, who might want to travel in opposite directions but instead are guided wherever she wants them to go. It’s no surprise that this is the voice of someone who collected old records as a child, and who would grow up to share stages with Jim Kweskin, Spider John Koerner, Peter Stampfel, John Cohen, Jeffrey Lewis and others.

Elizabeth brings something fresh to each arrangement, and she is not timid in her interpretations. Her slowed-down treatment of “Swing and Turn,” coupled with her straightforward reading of it, give the song’s playfully odd lyrics an almost eerie cast, and in her rendition of the a capella “Skin and Bones,” the part that’s traditionally meant to be scary is funny, and instead it is her humming that comes across as chilling. If she were singing at a medicine show, I’ll wager many of us would buy whatever patent medicines her voice advised us to. There’s a seldom-acknowledged artistry to the choosing of songs to perform, and I’m tempted to say that if these songs could sing themselves, this is how they would sound.

Elizabeth Butters is a special voice, like no other performer I know, folk or otherwise. Anyone who has the idea that I’m giving out too freely in my praise is invited to take that impression as a challenge to give Elizabeth Butters a listen.

-Doc Daniels, Deuce of Clubs

Download high-res photo
Photo by Emily Berger.

Link to Elizabeth Butters’ Electronic Press Kit.

KELLY JEAN CALDWELL



Recently named “Best Local Songwriter” by Real Detroit Weekly, former Saturday Looks Good To Me singer Kelly Jean Caldwell wears her heart on her sleeve onstage. KJC lives up to her RDW title– she truly is a brilliant songwriter and puts more emotion and boldness into each performance than most people could summon in a lifetime. Kelly is backed by some of the top fellas in Detroit, including her husband, Brian Blair, Kevin Sullivan, Terrible Twos’ Craig Brown, and Sugarcoats/Lee Marvin Computer Arm drummer Todd McNulty.

In true Michigan fashion, KJC was conceived in the upper peninsula on Halloween night, 1977, in the dugout of the Cooks Little League baseball field. Her father was costumed as a great black bear, and her mother as a sexy nurse. This wild scene securely set the stage for the rest of her northern childhood. Since moving down to southeastern Michigan after a brief stopover in Nashville, Tennessee, Kelly has sung with numerous local groups and is a well-known fixture on the metro Detroit rock club circuit.

Kelly’s 7″ on Top Magic marks her first solo release on vinyl, and Top Magic’s first foray into the mildly psychedelic side of music. The A-side is a real slow build-up rocker called “Outside Heart,” and the B-side is a heartfelt tune called “Diamonds.”

Download high-res photo
Photo/artwork by Vince Mazzola.




DOOLEY WILSON



Hailing from the unlikely environs of South Toledo, Ohio, Dooley Wilson is among a rare breed of latter-day purveyors of “hard” Mississippi/Louisiana – styled blues. With an approach that is steeped in the tradition of his forebears, Wilson offers a combination of bottleneck/slide guitar virtuosity with a renegade intensity that is more at home in a seedy rock club than at a typical “blues society” venue.

In the mid-nineties, Wilson co-fronted the indie-blues outfit, Henry & June, with whom he released the single, “Goin’ Back To Memphis.” The song has since been made famous by the White Stripes, who have included it in their live show since 1998. Henry & June reunited briefly in early 2010 for an immensely successful one-off show in their hometown of Toledo.



Download high-res photo
Photo by Todd Albright.

In autumn of 2001, Wilson migrated to New Orleans, where he spent a formative year busking on the streets of the French Quarter, pitted amongst a peer group of today’s most formidable torch-bearers of traditional American Blues.

2003 saw Wilson back home in his native Toledo, where, as a soloist, he became a finalist in the 2004 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee. He was the first-ever contestant from Toledo’s Black Swamp Blues Society to earn such a distinction.

Wilson has earned a modicum of international recognition touring Europe twice (2004 & 2005) as a support act for Detroit’s Soledad Brothers, and has been enthusiastically received by rock fans up and down the U.K., France, Spain, Portugal, and The Netherlands. In September 2005 Wilson returned to the U.K to play a co-headline tour alongside The High Plane Drifters.

Since returning from Europe, Wilson has performed in various capacities throughout the Midwest, including at the 2008 and 2009 Deep Blues Festivals. Wilson also fronts the popular blues/rock group Boogaloosa Prayer, as well as old-timey trio The Staving Chain, and has recently expanded his musical repertoire by joining Toledo-based hiphop group MC Habitat & Draw Blood.

Look for Wilson’s first full-length release out on Top Magic sometime this decade.

Link to Dooley Wilson’s Electronic Press Kit.