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November 14, 2012

Near-fatal accident spurs second CD for duo Black Hat

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

 

DETROIT — Sometimes it takes nearly dying to inspire living fully.

Musician Frankie the K — a.k.a. Frank Koscielski of Clinton Township — was in a serious motorcycle accident in March 2012 that likely would have killed him had he not been wearing a helmet. Miraculously, the vocalist and keyboardist not only recovered, but also played a concert just two weeks after being released from a 10-day hospital stay. The experience prompted Koscielski and his Black Hat collaborator, singer-songwriter Caroline Maun, of Grosse Pointe Park, to record their band’s second CD immediately instead of putting it off. The end result is the blues- and jazz-inflected pop/rock of “Hooray for Love,” which will be celebrated during a record release party at 9:30 p.m. Nov. 16 at the Cadieux Café.

Koscielski’s vocals — which sound like a cross between Leonard Cohen and Mick Jagger — contrast nicely with Maun’s gentler tones, and they’re placed atop impeccable musicianship from the likes of bassist Jef Reynolds, drummer Bill Hulet, trumpeter James O’Donnell, guitarist Pat Shanley, harmonica player Dale Robertson and saxophonist, flutist and percussionist Ralph Koziarski. Composer/bandleader Scott Gwinnell, of Harper Woods, from whom Koscielski is studying jazz piano, did the string arrangements.

“‘Hooray for Love’ is sort of hooray for life,” said Maun, who is also a respected poet and scholar with many publications to her credit, including three books. “We were very lucky on a lot of levels that we were able to dive into this creative project.”

Koscielski, who played guitar and keyboards for Badge and a number of other bands, has been performing since the 1960s. His mother was a piano teacher on Detroit’s east side, he said. But while Maun had read her poetry for audiences before, she’d never been in a band.

The pair met at Wayne State University, where both are professors — Maun in the English Department and Koscielski in Labor Studies. They were in the now-disbanded Interdisciplinary Studies Department when Koscielski, seeking a musical collaborator, asked Maun if she wrote anything with rhyme.

“I’d never had my words set to music before, and it was intoxicating,” Maun said.

Her role as a vocalist grew out of their writing together.

“There was no plan,” Koscielski said. “It was just casual.”

Maun learned performance techniques from the more seasoned stage veteran Koscielski, and he said the duo “grew organically, just like vegetables in your garden.”

That wasn’t the only thing that grew. A romance blossomed between Maun and Koscielski.

“Music brought us together,” Koscielski said.

Black Hat formed in 2008 and released their first album, “Phases of the Sun,” in 2009.

“Through the process of the first CD, we fell in love,” said Maun, calling that album a sort of “personal soundtrack” for the couple.

Sometimes she writes lyrics first, and sometimes Koscielski brings her music to write lyrics for. Maun said they “learn whether a song works or not” when they perform it.

“Everything gets revised,” Koscielski said. “There is no such thing as a finished song until the CD is finished. … It develops over time.”

For Maun, her poetry is separate from her lyrics, although she acknowledges that this project “has really alerted me to the music of poetry.” She is now the coordinator of creative writing and an associate professor at WSU.

“If something has to live on the page, it’s a collaboration with the reader and the writer,” Maun said. “But lyrics … would not have the power without the music.”

The one exception is “Cures and Poisons,” which was published before it was issued on the new CD.

“Each one of our songs tells a story and has a story,” Koscielski said. Along those lines, Maun said the order of tracks follows a “narrative arc.”

Koscielski performs with other bands as well, including big SHORTY and Dr. Bop!

The musical variety on “Hooray for Love” leads Koscielski to say it has “something for everyone,” although Maun admits that the CD’s “unfettered originality” makes it rather “unconventional stuff.”

“The thing that links the songs is a kind of exuberant melancholy,” Maun said.

Their Black Hat collaboration has inspired both artists to grow and expand their creative horizons, as they celebrate the life they’ve built with each other.

“I think the inspiration comes out of our love for each other,” Koscielski said.

The Cadieux Café is located at 4300 Cadieux. There is a $5 cover charge, which includes a copy of “Hooray for Love.” Additional copies of the CD are $5. For directions or more about the venue, call (313) 882-8560. For more about the band, visit their Facebook page or www.reverbnation.com/blackhat.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1047.