Annie & Rod Capps
In this town
by James M. Manheim
"If I lived in this town, I would frequent this cafe," sings Annie Capps, "and that table in the corner would be mine most every day." Capps has a way of starting a song with an image that's simple yet arresting enough to propel you through the ensuing developments, which often cover quite a bit of territory. That one leads to a whole imagined new existence for an unhappy woman, resembling the one that unexpectedly comes to fruition in Anne Tyler's novel The Ladder of Years. Quite a few of her songs instantly place you in the protagonist's mind: "Crossed the Mississippi, said good-bye to you/Hello to the road and a new thought or two."
Capps is one of a group of Ann Arbor songwriters (sometimes known as the Yellow Room Gang) who have created a genuine local scene and often taken it on the road to metro Detroit and northwestern Ohio and the northern Lower Peninsula. One among their number, Jan Krist, coined the term "Midwest urban folk" to describe the music they make they are all into detailed songcraft, but they grew up in Michigan amid rock and Motown and country, and there's usually a beat of one kind or another running through the music. Annie Capps works with her husband, Rod, on guitars and other strings, and her band often features the subtle percussion of Christine Schinker. They form a tight, symbiotic group that sets a mood for Capps's songs without overwhelming them.
Capps has been writing songs since she was eleven, and the music on her older albums often had an appealing mixture of confession and sass. When she comes to the Ark on Friday, June 22, she'll have a new release, In This Town. I've heard a working version, and it's terrific. Capps has some great story songs the title track quoted above, and "The Ring," a virtuoso effort about a woman who is sweeping up shattered glass in
a chain store and spots a wedding ring in the debris. As her reflections unfold "The trouble with hope is the way that it shatters" they're periodically qualified by a little "sometimes, anyways" that makes the whole funny-sad set of images reverberate in the brain.
Capps also broadens her range on In This Town, probably under the influence of her Yellow Room Gang associates. Some of her new songs tackle big spiritual questions in the way that Krist does, and others have a bit of Whit Hill's quirky outlook. That's how you make a promising scene grow, and those who follow Michigan songwriting or just want to check some out should come on down to the Ark for Annie Capps's turn in the spotlight.
[Review published June 2007]