Brent Mitchell (Kenosha) [The Well]
Originally from Denton, Texas, Brent Mitchell has expressed a lot of struggle over living in the Midwest. Local musicians are treated like heroes in his home region, the way football teams are diefied here. Still, because he is insanely talented and dedicated to music, he’s managed to make a name for himself in this area that’s so much less enthusiastic over independent musicians. He’s even written a song about his new home, Kenosha, which brings the total of songs written about Kenosha up to...uh...one?
Nick Ramsey (Racine) [Sun's Not out Today]
Born and raised in Racine, Nick Ramsey is the current Poet Laureate of Racine county. He’s not just an ambassador of the arts—he’s a straight-up poetry apostle, building encouraging community around words and creativity everywhere he goes. I have to believe that this is the only poem to have ever rhymed “Mequon” with “Step-mom.” or maybe to have ever mentioned Mequon at all.
The Barrow Band (Nomadic/Racine) [Brother, Sister, Mine]
The Barrow Band actually has members spread out a bit through the Midwest, though one of their members, Jackson Potter-Barrow, is a Racine native—born, raised and splitting his time between there and Milwaukee, as he finishes up a degree at UWM. Their music in general seems somehow mysteriously informed by the landscape of the Midwest in ways I won’t try to articulate. But this song in particular captures a strange, dark essence of rural Midwest gothic; striking, precise and often beautiful imagery, but still subtle and suggestive enough to leave an unsettled feeling in the listener. Unsettled beauty, to me, feels pretty synonymous with the Midwest.
The November Criminals (Milwaukee) [Vulgar Boatmen]
Is there anything more Milwaukee than a polka-hip-hop group? Yes—this politically-bent anthem of The November Criminals, championing the middle class. Union dues get a shout out in this song and, in Wisconsin, unfortunately, that alone would be viewed as a type of activism under the state’s current political climate. This trio consists of 3 MCs: all of them rap on this track, one of them plays a melodeon and another is bringing the harmonies on the clarinet. Ridiculous. And they’re completely serious, too.
Naomi Marie (Racine) [Red]
Though not mentioned in this song, Lake Michigan features prominently in Naomi Marie’s music. She also has a song called “I-80”. Between that and the obvious fact that she is an astounding musical talent, this was a Racine-based musician I knew needed to be included in a collection focused on the Midwest.
The Nielsen Brothers (Racine) [Snow Day]
This song is a real outlier for The Nielsen Brothers, since most of their songs are focused on sadness, depression and other kinds of Midwest malaise. In fact, the album this song comes from is called “More Songs About Loneliness and Death.” This song, however, is a sweet encapsulation of that floating holiday of the Midwest, the snow day. Dan Nielsen does lead vocals on this track. Dan has also been writing and publishing great poetry and poetry journals in Racine, WI, for decades now.
Mexico City is Sinking (Racine) [Midwest Winter]
Marco Jaimez of Mexico City is Sinking was born and raised in Racine. His songs are simple, his voice is pristine and it’s all so melodious that you could easily not notice at first that his lyrics tend to be pretty insightful, profound and maybe even a little messed up. That feels like a reflection of the Midwest to me somehow in and of itself; neat and tidy on the exterior, but with a lot of troubling stuff stirring just barely below the surface.