On her new album Buffalo Motel Americana singer-songwriter Judy Banker checks into an expansive, layered and atmospheric sound that transcends traditional acoustic country and folk roots. Driving drum and bass tracks, hook-driven instrumental intros and breaks, and innovative arrangements push Banker toward a countrified indie rock territory that lies somewhere between Ann Arbor, Michigan and Kalispell, Montana. The songs on the album—her third studio recording—show Banker flexing a raw, gritty songwriting muscle to weather a series of intense emotions through different relationships and life events.
She poetically chronicles love’s rise and decline at several points in time throughout Buffalo Motel’s 12 intimate sonic tales. The Americana-tinged opener, Born Again, magically meshes uplifting banjos, slide and electric guitars, and rhythmic percussion to rejuvenate the soul and escape a stifling relationship in the “passing lane.” The album’s title track longs for a fleeting, passionate love that’s evaporated from the present day, but lingers in the mind years later. Hypnotic acoustic and slide guitars eloquently capture the melancholy of what’s lost while Banker’s hopeful vocals anticipate a return.
Another poignant “Buffalo Motel” track includes Haggerty, a tale of heart-wrenching loss emphasized by Banker’s emotional vocals intertwined with deep-tone guitars and bass that echo fear and despair. At the opposite end of the sonic spectrum lies Homecoming Day, Banker’s beautiful, timeless ode to a love’s long-awaited arrival against an outlaw country sonic backdrop. With her son Ben Sayler as creative producer, Banker pushed her musical boundaries to transform “Buffalo Motel’s” initial country folk songs into more colorful, textured indie rock vistas at Rooftop Recording.
Banker also collaborated with a roster of talented Michigan musicians on Buffalo Motel to make it bigger than the sum of its parts. David Roof (multi-instrumentalist, killer harmony singer and Rooftop Recording engineer), Tony Pace (electric guitar, dobro), John Sperendi (electric and upright bass), Brian Williams (drums) and Alan Pagliere (pedal steel) added new layers to realize the potential of each song. Together, they spent part of 2019 steeped in fireplace bourbon sessions while creating the “Buffalo Motel” tracks until the right sound, feel and experience emerged.
While Banker explores new musical territory on Buffalo Motel her previous Detroit Music Award-nominated releases, Devils Never Cry (2016) and Without You (2014), reflect a classic Americana sound with touching stories about love, loss and growth. Devils Never Cry followed a country-rich feel with warm love songs, lamentations and narratives that uncovered her own life experiences. Meanwhile, the raw heartfelt debut Without You dealt with the loss and remembrance of Banker’s husband and long-time musical partner, John Sayler, in 2012.
As her musical partner for 30 years, Banker played with John Sayler at family weddings and friends’ shows, teaming up with beloved Michigan folk icon, Jay Stielstra, to perform as the Jay Stielstra Trio from 2009 - 2012. That experience inspired Banker to write her own material and perform original songs instead of covers. She developed an affinity for old-school country tunes by Merle Haggard, Nanci Griffith, Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons and John Prine and recording vocals on recordings of Michigan country artists Ed Dupas and Bill Edwards.
Banker’s deep appreciation for vintage country and traditional folk music dates back to her childhood in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. She grew up playing piano and guitar and listening to Joan Baez; Peter, Paul and Mary; and Bob Dylan. Banker continued to play music while studying psychology at the University of Michigan and Duquesne University and later became a psychotherapist.
As a psychotherapist, Banker explores the use of words to help release internal experiences and connect with others. Her early days of writing poetry and journaling morphed into composing introspective song lyrics that channel her insights and forge fruitful relationships with fans. Banker combines those compelling lyrics with traditional country instruments – acoustic guitar, dobro and banjo – and weaves them with the dirty, gritty buzz and spacey vibe of an electric guitar or lap steel.
She translates that countrified indie rock musical vision to the live stage at Michigan-based venues like The Ark, Johnny’s Speakeasy, the Farmington Civic Theater, Mama's Coffeehouse, and Trinity House Theatre as well as the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, Nor East’r Music Festival, Harvest Gathering, Holler Fest and the Rosalie Sorrels Music Festival in Idaho.
Today, Banker is preparing for the January 9, 2020 release of Buffalo Motel along with a special show at The Ark in Ann Arbor, Michigan to celebrate with her full band and Joanna & the Jaywalkers. “This album has a sound I never imagined in the beginning. It feels bigger and more separate from me because of all the creative collaboration that went into it,” Banker says. “Playing as a full band is very exciting and inspiring for me. It has forced me to push myself on every level as an artist.”
"Judy Banker is...a premier songwriter with universal appeal. A singular unique talent and stage presence...that is organic and soul-driven, Banker writes songs with a more creatively complex vision. Her new CD, Devils Never Cry, is a complete compendium of the twists and turns anyone might face, turned into a delightful and at times heart-weary mix of cautionary tales and tonics for the troops. Several of the songs on this could be considered classics." Pulp Magazine Online, Michael G. Nastos, 88.3 WCBN-FM Ann Arbor, Founding member & Recipient of Lifetime Achievement Award, Southeast Michigan Jazz Association
"Ann Arbor singer/songwriter, Judy Banker, writes songs rooted in vintage country style. Torch songs rife with intrepid melodic lines that twist and turn in delightful, unexpected ways, yet stay true to the genre. Her voice, tangy and bright as fall cider, brings to life articulate, arresting songs of lost love and the perfidy of human nature. Reminiscent of Loretta Lynn and Rose Maddox, Judy Banker's music remains contemporary, rich in everything the modern listener appreciates about old-time country music." Maggie Ferguson, host of WXOU's The Old Front Porch Radio Show and Live! From the Living Room Acoustic Showcase
“The lyrics of Judy’s songs sound effortless and conversational and then you realize as you’re listening that your eyes are hot and something warm is running down your face. You’ll want to listen to this album (Without You) many times…you’ll surely feel more alive.“ Johnny Williams, owner of Johnny’s Speakeasy, Ann Arbor, MI
“Judy Banker...a monster singer/songwriter talent… Classic folk-style guitar…remarkably rich and nuanced. With a flexible voice that moves from a sultry tenor to a crystal clear soprano depending on the mood of the song, melodies flow seemingly effortlessly from her as she sings. It’s also great to see how much fun Banker has on stage. Find an opportunity to go see her, you will love every minute of it.” John Bayerl, SeMiBluegrass.com