Meanwhile, the rhythm section is no throwaway. Friesen puts the soul food in the mix, and drummer John Yax is thoughtful about how to create different moods. Yet he can be too sparing. I usually opt for plainspoken drumming, but he can afford to run a few stop signs in this tight traffic.
Almost all of them write original numbers, and they trade off lead vocals. Lyrically, the songs are unpretentious and universal: "Someone tell me how I'm supposed to be. I can't find anyone quite like me." The band is also unabashed about its Michigan roots, with songs like "Lake Erie" and its references to zebra mussels and Ypsilanti, and the beautiful "Sideways Daydream," set under the Michigan moonlight with Stroh's beer. Ripke in particular has a gift for moving and memorable tunes. He is responsible for the band's signature track, "The Back Forty," which is basically an invitation to a party I'd like to attend.
At a recent Ark show they played almost all originals from their 2006 CD and from their brand-new Big Orange Tent. But when they started into a slow, heartrending performance of Hank Williams's "Kaw-Liga," my esteem grew further. I've never much cared for that corny song about the wooden Indian, but Back Forty almost got me crying for him.
I hope these fine musicians, who are at TC's Speakeasy on Saturday, May 3, will soon be laughing all the way to the bank.