Strangers and then some

. April 22, 2015.
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Plenty of bands set out to gain arena-level stardom, or perhaps just  local acknowledgement— maybe they make it, maybe they don’t. What matters is that they don’t lose sight of why they started: Making good music, and having fun in the process.

J. Magee and the Crossed Lines, an Ypsilanti-based band, retains those basic goals while their rehearsals flash the same organic music-jam magic you’ll see blossom on the stage of a dive bar. Only, it’s much better.

The project of singer/songwriter Jason Magee, the band is comprised of musicians Magee met through his performing career; drummer Ben Lorenz and bassist Erik Santos, Magee’s bandmates in the Restroom Poets, and more recently, Sixteen More Miles. The rest of the band fell together during one live recording session in late 2014, an event that resulted in their first album.

“We were at the tail-end of [Sixteen More Miles], and the original idea was to record this album all at once,” Magee explained. “We were gonna just make an album, do some dubs . . . But nothing ever happened like we thought.”

When they started recording, some of the band members had never met each other. “We decided to try a different approach . . .  ‘let’s put a band together and see what happens if we do a completely live recording and some overdubs afterward,’” Magee said.

The result is Blood on the Water, a beautiful medley of first- or second-take live recordings that incorporate virtuoso fiddle and piano (Jordan Adema, Jesse Morgan), mandolin solos (Jason Dennie) and a female vocalist, Kristin von Bernthal, who was not originally part of the plan, according to the songwriter, but whose voice provides beautiful accompaniment to Magee’s.

The album takes notes from Willie Nelson’s Red-Headed Stranger and the medley side of the Beatles’ Abbey Road—the songs in the concept album are linear —some of them are snippets, bookended by longer pieces that tell a story. A man heads West to stake a claim, with plans to bring his fiancee out after the homestead is settled. “He gets out there, he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, and gets into trouble,” Magee explained. “He fights for a deed, and his fiancee doesn’t show up . . You don’t know if he wins or loses at the end, if he dies or what, but it’s the fact that she never shows up that makes the story,” he said.

And the storyline for the album is as interesting as its creation. “The approach was, if it sucked, it wouldn’t happen. A lot of the musicians were a last-minute addition,” Magee explained. “But it was magic, everyone just played the songs with very little acquaintance or knowledge of the music, but that’s what made it so good.”

Look for Blood on the Water on May 5 in the iTunes Store and Spotify. Listen at thecrossedlines.bandcamp.com, where you’ll also find upcoming show announcements.