In this town I could be happy, in this town I’d make new friends—In this town . . . I could start all over again.

The cover of Annie and Rod Capps’s fifth album, In This Town, shows the local folk duo lounging on the steps of the Chelsea Depot. This 2007 release is about transitions, about both reveling in what’s fresh and valuing what’s been left behind. The two-year gestation of the CD paralleled the couple’s move from Ann Arbor to a scenic summit north of Chelsea.

“We’d spent a lot of time here,” says Annie, the duo’s singer and lyricist. “We’d eat at the Common Grill, hang out with friends. And we were playing at Zou Zou’s once a month. It was like playing in our living room.”

“Like a house concert, where you can try new songs,” adds Rod, her strings-maestro husband of fourteen years.

In fact, Annie believes the two venues most important in their career have been Zou Zou’s and Saline’s Drowsy Parrot—”where we got our first die-hard fans, the ones who are still coming to our shows all over.”

Back in those days the Cappses were living in a tightly packed neighborhood on the west side of Ann Arbor. Describing themselves as “old rock ‘n’ rollers” who had done their time in cover bands, they’d been part of the southeast Michigan music scene for decades.

“We were still doing bar gigs back then,” Annie explains. “We’d drive in late at night with lots of equipment to put away. The dogs would be barking. . . . And the people next door had a new baby.”

“We weren’t the best neighbors,” says Rod.

When a friend offered them a parcel split off from her small spread on rolling hills in Lyndon Township, it wasn’t a hard sell. They moved in December 2005 after Riemco Homes custom-built their dream house.

“Anyone,” the third track on the new CD, is Annie’s good-bye stroll through the old Ann Arbor house. “Almost a ghost story,” Rod calls it.

Their new house has been decorated with taste and care, but its greatest feature is the view out the big windows, courtesy of the changing seasons. The location couldn’t be more idyllic, complete with horses grazing on the front slope and marsh grasses silhouetted in the evening’s orange sky. Rod says he was a kid who loved bugs and critters, and the setting that surrounds him “is like a cathedral.” He appreciates their new solitude every afternoon when he arrives home from his part-time job as a U-M web application developer: “It’s amazing how the stress melts off when you drive in here.”

For a first-time visitor to the Capps house, however, driving in can be challenging, especially if there’s a fresh coat of snow on the long driveway. You can aim for the garage door, which is pretty much the only part of the house not decked in wraparound country porch.

“The porch is half the fun of this house—great for porch-pickin’ parties with our musician friends,” Annie says, her arm waving up from an overstuffed sofa to the window-wall-framed view. There are no neighbors within earshot to complain—although the musicians get some pretty fierce competition in the spring when the peepers in the swamp rev up to full bore. The nearby pond, where Rod catches and releases bluegills and bass, is the setting for the “fishing song” Annie has recently written and has yet to record.

The spring peepers charmed the Cappses so much that they decided to feature them in the fade-out at the end of “When My Time Comes,” the final track on In This Town. Annie’s lyrics tell why:

Don’t want this day to end

But I really am quite beat

And that tiny life in the


Is singing me to sleep.

Rod cheerfully recounts taking a microphone down to the swamp’s edge late one night, to capture the peepers in their full throaty glory.

Besides the frogs, the guest artist list for the new CD is a who’s who of local musical royalty, with Peter Madcat Ruth’s wailing harmonica on the honky-tonk number “The Ring” rounding out perhaps the strongest tune on the disk. Whit Hill also sings on “The Ring,” and Jason Dennie and the Milroys appear on other songs.

Most of the raw cuts of Annie’s vocals and guitar and Rod’s work on guitar, tenor banjo, and bass were locked in right in their high-ceilinged great room with a Mac G5 and editing software. Rod says they couldn’t have recorded such tracks in the old Ann Arbor house because trucks on Miller Avenue produced a troublesome “subsonic rumble.” “This is the first album I don’t cringe when I listen to the vocals,” says Annie, “because we were able to take the time to get it right.”

For a while the Cappses were going to call their latest album Grey, after a bittersweet song Annie wrote while marveling at stars out her new skylight. They also considered calling it Chelsea, after a developing song, but they decided the tune wasn’t “baked” enough for the final cut. They came up with the title In This Town after the cover photo shoot. The cover, framed with vintage curlicues, which Annie culls from her graphic design work, captures the mood of “midwestern urban folk” they aim for.

Chelsea feels like home in more ways than one.

“I did my Christmas shopping at the Mission Marketplace and Potting Shed,” Annie says. “Cranesbill Books has been great to us—always has our CDs out.” She can show you the little blue dot on the big map outside Zou Zou’s that represents their pond. She’s designing websites for local businesses—sometimes from a table at Zou Zou’s, because the cafe’s Internet connection is faster than the one at home.

With their new CD getting unprecedented radio play, Annie and Rod Capps are touring farther afield, to Pennsylvania, New York, Tennessee, California. But they always look forward to coming home.

“I can honestly say being out here has inspired a different kind of songwriting for me,” Annie says.

Originally published in the Spring 2008 Community Observer