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The best kept secret in music


"Album Review - "It's Coming Down""

“It’s Coming Down”

The moment the first note of Ann Arbor’s Smokestack debut release “It’s Coming Down” invaded my stereo, I realized this record was something special. Independently financed, recorded and produced, this album shines utilizing well-crafted music coupling pop sensibilities with Latin and bluegrass undertones. Smokestack, who describe themselves as “piano driven experimental jam” are much deeper then the moniker on their website. With the musical talents displayed on “It’s Coming Down”, Smokestack are the next young band to watch in a scene crowded with talent, and the owners of a must have album for music lovers that enjoy good quality skills, craftiness and musicianship.
The album opens up with the infectious Latin infused gem “Lag and a Foot”. A whole band composition, this opening track introduces the listener to the playful, complex and energetic world of Smokestack. Opening with a rain stick and a handful of percussive rhythms, each member of the quartet feed off each other while frolicking through solos. “Lag and a Foot” just makes you smile, cheer up and anticipate the rest of the highly creative and lively record.
“Dreams We Dream”, the second track of the debut release follows “Lag and a Foot”. This song contains more pop sensibilities then any other track, winding through Bruce Hornsby like piano rock and emotionally charged lyrics sung by James Sibley. Piano genius and lead vocalist Sibley glides though the light-hearted testament to living large and enjoying the life we have while guitarist Chuck Newsome adds climactic riffs and tasteful solos to a song that can be listened to dozens of times without sounding repetitive or boring.
“Bodhi”, the eleven-minute jazz marvel that weaves its way through time changes, difficult bass lines and tasteful drumming shows another side of the band that relishes in improvisation and group patience. Slowly working its way through solos by all four-band members and solid jamming, Smokestack takes the listener on a journey through the imagination leaving no stone unturned while managing to grasp hold of the initial theme keeping the eleven minute track from losing relevance and excitement.
The Latin/Bluegrass fusion “Why Did You Do Me Wrong?” follows. Opening with a standard bluegrass drum line and Latin piano melody, this track fuses the two styles perfectly creating a well-textured piece filled with liveliness and originality.
“Shafted”, a song that reminds the listeners of the porno-funk that populated the airwaves in the seventies rolls through a Shaft-like “wah-wah” pedal. “Shafted”, clocking in at over ten minutes features the best improvisation on the album and shows that aside from bluegrass, jazz, rock and Latin, funk is also a style that Smokestack harbours under its sleeve. Dan Eichinger, the drummer, showcases his talents towards the end of the track nailing down a drum solo that is upbeat, tasteful and full of vigour that proves to be a perfect way to reflect back to the seventies while still looking forward towards the future.
“Tuna Fish Sunrise” and “Send My Regards” follow. Both Sibley compositions, “Tuna Fish” incorporates reggae themes and while “Send My Regards” is another bluegrass original. Both tracks add to the beauty of “It’s Coming Down” with their layered sound, danceable rhythms and ingenuity.
After straying away from the Latin theme for a few songs, the eighth track on the record “Beaver Street” brings Smokestack back to its roots, fusing Latin, pop and jazz together to create an instrumental track that showcases the musicianship of each member of the band. Throwing in complicated time changes, another drum solo and powerful bass work from Thom McNeil, “Beaver Street” shows that Smokestack does not need to sing to shove their message of playful, danceable music right into the listeners face.
“The Ghost”, the second last track on “It’s Coming Down” is the only track on the record written solely by bass player Thom McNeil. Boasting more pop sensibilities and radio friendly grooves, the vocal harmonies displayed by the band shine through, appealing to even the pickiest listener.
“Bakersville,” the final track, ends the musical masterpiece. Clocking in at nearly ten minutes long, the final track on the record again shows Smokestack’s affection for blending Latin with jazz, bluegrass, pop and rock. A fitting way to conclude the journey giving each member one more chance to shine, not only as individuals but as a group. The mischievous piano melody that haunts “Bakersville” carries the theme of a glowing sunrise, almost ordering the listener to return to wake up and greet the day after enjoying the a long night of partying that is “It’s Coming Down”
Smokestack has been gaining more press in not only the United States but also Canada after the release of “It’s Coming Down”. They have risen to huge acclaim in their home state of Michigan and have played such festivals like Leftover Salmon’s Salmonfest in Missouri. Look for Smokestack to tour the Northeastern United States and Canada in the fall in support of “It’s Coming Down”. They will be playing Saturday, October 12th at the Comfort Zone in Toronto supporting Canadian funksters Jomomma, so be sure to make it out and support the band.
This is one of the best albums released in the past year and if the opportunity is available to see Smokestack in action, jump at the chance because sooner then later, their shows will begin to sell out.
- Revolving Door

"2002 Review"


Despite an amazing lack of promotion, the first annual Bonnaroo Music Festival held in Tennessee this past July managed to draw a sold-out crowd of 75,000 visitors from all over the country. The line-up read like a Who's Who of the premiere acts on today's jam-band circuit and the word-of-mouth fanaticism quickly spread among fans of the genre. It was as modern marvel that brought these bands together (conceived by Trey Anastasio of Phish, also including Widespread Panic, String Cheese Incident, Ben Harper and many others) and sent a clear message that there is an audience for this increasingly popular style of music. The phenomenon continues to grow, slowly and steadily, just below the antennae of mainstream press and radio.

Ann Arbor's Smokestack has consistently been grouped in the jam-band category. They didn't make the trip to Bonnaroo, however, as they have been busy pioneering a festival of their own. It is their most ambitious project to date, but careful planning has culminated in a late summer weekend now known as the Michigan Shoreline Music Festival.

Taking place at Val-Du-Lakes in Mears, Michigan, the first annual affair is scheduled for August 23rd and 24th. The weekend of music and camping brings together a variety of Michigan's youngest and most promising bands to play for eighteen hours, on two stages and for only $10.00. It is an all-ages event and Smokestack also headlines with the Detroit-based band Simplicity. The Festival includes appearances by Jiant, the Flow, Jebus, Glowb, and a number of acoustic performers. Val-Du-Lakes — which has hosted Lollapalooza and the H.O.R.D.E. Tour in years past — also has on-site camping facilities and is located near Silver Lake State Park and the sand dunes of Lake Michigan. Several other campgrounds are nearby and tickets can be purchased through the band's website (

The band felt that a Jam Festival would be a perfect complement to Michigan's existing summer festivals. And as an annual event, it will continue to grow and foster jam-based music created in Michigan and beyond. Smokestack has always taken the do-it-yourself approach to marketing, as well as their music.

Smokestack has continued to improve steadily since its formation in 1998, consistently writing better material and fine-tuning it. Keyboardist James Sibley and guitarist Chuck Newsome found common ground as students of jazz at the University of Michigan and at Wayne State University, respectively. "You can tell the bands that have studied from those that haven't. Studying allows the music to be more complex and gives a tighter sound," said James. "The communication when you're playing — that's what you learn from schooling and playing with good jazz players." It made sense, therefore when Dan Eichenger, also a student of jazz at the University of Michigan, entered the picture. The three have honed their ability to improvise and react to one another. There is the obvious connection to jazz, but Smokestack visibly enjoys tackling multiple genres.

There is little doubt that their live performance has drawn more attention to the band than their debut album, It's Coming Down, independently released in 2001. Each song provides the basic framework of melody and serves as a musical springboard to something wholly unique and unanticipated, often unrepeatable freeform.

Eclectic is a goal towards which more and more bands are aspiring. But Smokestack has turned this into an art form; their set lists are unpredictable, and meticulously documented on their website (some of the set lists date back as far as February of 2001). They are all highly capable musicians and this paves the way for a performance that is constantly evolving and highly experimental. They've played with a horn section, and collaborated with several of Ann Arbor's freestyle MCs. The band is as likely to cover Miles Davis as they are to cover Ben Folds or the Bangles.

They've shared the stage with some of the more successful artists performing today, including Keller Williams, Dark Star Orchestra, Jazz Mandolin Project, The Big Wu, Umphrey's McGee, The Slip, and Ekoostik Hookah. As have many bands with the propensity to jam, Smokestack has found success through grassroots self-promotion, a desire to make the music available wherever possible (such as free MP3 downloads on their website, where two complete shows are currently online), and to tour incessantly. The journey has taken them throughout the Midwest, as far south as Missouri, and a recent tour through Sibley's home state of Colorado. "It was rewarding to have the band play their opening night at Quixote's in Denver to an enthusiastic, sold-out crowd," said their manager and promoter, Pedro Martinez-Fonts. A bright future and more national exposure lie ahead, as the band has secured booking through a national agency that plans to send them through Canada and the east coast.

Despite looking to bigger markets, the band has been getting more northern exposure, as well. That trend continues with a pair of dates at the Loading Dock this upcoming Labor Day Weekend (August 30th and 31st).
- Smokestack

"Smokestack Canada"

“The quality of playing blew me away. All four guys were stars, but that keyboard player is a superstar. Very Hornsby in his writing and singing, very Medeski with his jams. I have had the CD for a few months, and being a little familiar with the songs impressed me even more.” - CanJam News - Toronto, CAN

"Smokestack Review"

“Musically, Smokestack has much in common with the jazzier contemporary jam bands, especially String Cheese Incident and Phish. The music is intensely eclectic, with elements of Latin, bebop, reggae, fusion and bluegrass. The musicianship is at an extremely high level.” - The Aspen Times - Aspen, CO

"Smokestack Online Review"

“These are people who have studied their instruments and it comes out in their performance. They know what they are doing. My advice is this: go see Smokestack while their tickets are still cheap.” -


It's Coming Down - 2001

Chasing The Hippo - 2003


Feeling a bit camera shy


Smokestack is a provocative and highly energetic band that successfully fuses Rock, R&B, Jazz, Funk, and Latin styles. With an emphasis on tight grooves, melodic songs, and sophisticated improvisation, Smokestack has developed a truly unique and refreshing sound.

It’s no coincidence that shortly after JamBase named Smokestack one of the “Bands to See Live in 2005,” Relix magazine listed them number one in the “On the Verge” section of their March issue. Whether you describe their sound as rock, funk, pop, R&B, Latin, or any mixture thereof, this quartet from Ann Arbor, MI has got something going, and the recognition they are receiving is well deserved. At a time when so many markets are saturated with up-and-coming bands, Smokestack is able to distinguish itself as a result of strong musicianship, well thought-out arrangements, and extraordinary song writing. All four members of the band are schooled musicians and have a knack for writing catchy tunes that incorporate a good deal of improvisation. This ‘freedom’ within Smokestack’s compositions allows for new and exciting performances every time the band hits the stage and keeps even the most die-hard fans guessing. Smokestack’s energy and creativity are currently at an all time high as they boast a repertoire of close to forty original songs, with many more to come. In short, prepare to feel...prepare to think...prepare to dance your butt off.

Smokestack began touring the country in 2001 and along the way has shared the stage with national acts such as the Allman Brothers, Umphrey’s McGee, Dark Star Orchestra, Moe, Ekoostik Hookah, Jacob-Fred Jazz Odyssey, and the Victor Wooten Band. While the road has yielded a fair amount of success, the band recently decided to concentrate on playing a larger number of local shows in an effort to further develop a burgeoning Midwest fan base. As a result, Smokestack has already seen its crowds more than double in many areas across Michigan and Ohio. As the Revolving Door magazine puts it, “if the opportunity is available to see Smokestack in action, jump at the chance because sooner or later, their shows will begin to sell out.”