ON THE MUSICAL RADAR
There are as many endings as beginnings on West Michigan's music scene, sparked by the ups and downs of venues and clubs or the germinations and gyrations of local bands. Such is the case with Muskegon's popular Four Finger Five, an uber-talented trio that for 10 years has generated an infectious mix of soul, rock, blues, pop and funk. As guitarist-singer Joe Sturgill put it, he and his bandmates – Steve Harris on drums and Mike Phillips on bass – became "weekend warriors" throughout the region, creating sparks onstage and in the studio (Exhibit A: 2011's Soul in a Suitcase). Now, Four Finger Five will take an extended hiatus as individual members tackle solo ventures and work with other bands. The trio played its last show at Grand Rapids' Founders Brewing in late November. "It is kind of a sad time, but also optimistic about future projects," said Sturgill, who's also president/recording engineer for Grand Haven's Redwall North Studios. "I'm working on some tracks and not really sure how that is going to materialize, but more interested in the songwriting and producing at this point. Mike and Steve are both working on other things as well." Sturgill has started playing solo shows, including an Inside the Mitten concert at Muskegon's Watermark 920.
On the flip side, 2013 ushers in a new beginning: a first-time contemporary folk series. The Spins on Music website will partner with St. Cecilia Music Center and Mackinaw Harvest Music in debuting Local Spins Live in St. Cecilia's Royce Auditorium, starting with a Jan. 10 lineup of six Michigan singer-songwriters: Ralston Bowles, Michelle Chenard, Lucas Wilson, Lux Land, Michael Crittenden and Karisa Wilson. The Thursday-night series spotlights The Crane Wives and Delilah DeWylde & the Lost Boys on Feb. 21, and Seth Bernard and May Erlewine, with The Fauxgrass Quartet, on March 28 ($15, $10 students). The novel idea of putting regional artists in an unplugged setting on a historic stage known primarily for spotlighting internationally heralded classical and jazz acts arose during a chat with executive director Cathy Holbrook during St. Cecilia's ArtPrize music showcase. Some acts that entered in the competition experienced the rare thrill of playing Royce Auditorium; headlining shows there should be even more special. "There's a certain sense of spirituality I've felt inside Royce Auditorium," says Crane Wives drummer Dan Rickabus. Holbrook figures it will expose a new – and younger – audience to St. Cecilia. If successful, it bodes well for future concerts featuring folk, jazz and blues artists. For details, go online to scmc-online.org.
Grand Rapids Americana singer-songwriter and Red House Records recording artist Drew Nelson recently wrapped up a European tour that featured several intimate, but "very positive" U.K. shows and BBC appearances with West Michigan guitarist Jack Leaver. "This has been the best tour for press yet," said Nelson, noting he raised his profile further in English print and broadcast media by opening shows for folk-rock musician Ian Matthews' band, Matthews' Southern Comfort.
Kris Hitchcock and Small Town Son
Every once in a while, a country artist comes along that absolutely oozes "the next big thing." West Michigan has seen a fair number of these talented souls, including singers like Frankie Ballard. Add Kalamazoo's Kris Hitchcock and his award-winning band, Small Town Son, to that list. The energetic group's sophomore album, recorded in Nashville and being released later this month, has everything a mainstream country collection should have and more: clever, country rock ("Wild Honey," "Taking a Chance"), twangy, rollicking barn-burners ("Haywired") and tender ballads ("What Songs Are For," "Don't Tell Georgia") enhanced by smart vocals and top-notch musicianship from fiddler Susan Belliel and guitarist Ian Szarafinski. Produced by Nashville's Jimmy Dulin, this represents no small-town affair, but rather a big-city effort with prime-time potential.
Kris Hitchcock and Small Town Son hosts a CD-release concert on Jan. 24 at The Intersection in Grand Rapids; $5 advance, $7 day of show.
With its world-music-styled flair, An Dro – Fred Willson, Michele Venegas, Jim Spalink, Carolyn Koebel – has long stood out from the pack as one of Michigan preeminent, instrumental Celtic music ensembles. The band's third album, recorded at River City Studios in Grand Rapids, further cements that reputation, with 11 mesmerizing tracks that alternately soothe and invigorate, much like a riveting tale told around a fire – hence the title, inspired by bouzouki player and bard Spalink's "storyteller's chair." On the album's best tracks, "Tourdion/An Dro" and "Duty-Free Reel," percussionist Koebel's genius rises to the forefront as the band An Dro-cize's the haunting songs with Mideast textures and smart arrangements.
Music critic and entertainment writer John Sinkevics comments on the local and national music scene at localspins.com (Spins on Music), spotlighting artists at 10 a.m. Wednesdays on Local Spins Live at News Talk 1340 AM.