Ultraviolet Hippopotamus is a behemoth of the road, a formidable force on the national progressive jam band scene. The instrumentally adroit Grand Rapids rock band, with its lively mix of funk, jazz, electronica, reggae and bluegrass, travels coast to coast, playing 150 to 200 shows a year. This month, UV Hippo will regale hometown fans with an unprecedented Fourth of July show in downtown Grand Rapids. The jam band headlines this year’s lineup of free entertainment at Ah-Nab-Awen Park, playing an extended set just before the Amway Fourth of July Family Fireworks display over the Grand River. (Blue Molly and Kris Hitchcock & Small Town Son also are on the bill.) “Honestly, at this point in our musical careers we only get to play in our hometown three to five times a year,” said Russell James, guitarist and singer. “So it’s a big deal for us to be home for a holiday and play a free event for a community that has supported us and allowed us to grow and do what we love to do." The five-piece band’s appearance comes as it completes work on a new studio album (the full-length follow-up to 2011’s Square Pegs Round Holes), recorded at Grand Haven’s Redwall North Studios and Grand Rapids’ new River City Studios. “Working at both places was an incredible experience,” says James, raving about the “stress-free and creative” climate created by engineers Roy Wallace, Joe Sturgill and Bill Chrysler. The 10-track album, described as “a pretty eclectic mix of musical genres,” is slated for fall release.
Billy’s Lounge isn’t generally associated with Grand Rapids’ jazz scene. But that might change now that the Eastown club has launched a Tuesday jazz night spearheaded by award-winning pianist Steve Talaga, complete with a more sophisticated ambiance of white tablecloths and bottle wine specials. Talaga leads a trio of players during the free, every-other-week jams, with others invited to sit in. A DJ spins “the finest recorded jazz” on off Tuesdays. Bar manager Jeff Avink concedes that while “jazz has been tough to keep alive on a regular basis” at venues around town, he insists some regular patrons are seeking “something nice and easy” that appeals to older audiences. “I had a night that was floundering and I thought that there is no better time than this to try and program jazz back into Billy’s music history,” he said. For his part, Talaga believes jazz has a place in Eastown. “Billy's is in one of the hippest neighborhoods in Grand Rapids. Eastown is always up for the unconventional, non-mainstream, artsy in life, and I think jazz fits right in with that.”
LOCAL CD RELEASES
Glow in the Dark
Starting with the lonely drone of a violin, Pat Carroll’s journey through Glow in the Dark is unlike any other venture by any other folk-rock artist. Born with cystic fibrosis and undergoing a double lung transplant at age 20, the Traverse City native and Kalamazoo-based multi-instrumentalist, sound engineer and social worker spent six years on this heart-rending and wondrously rich collection of tunes. With the brutal honesty, Carroll delivers a masterpiece of human frailty on his Earthwork Music debut, with cleverly arranged horns, muscular acoustic and electric guitars, and desperately beautiful vocals. (As of this writing, Carroll was back at the Cleveland Clinic, awaiting a second double lung transplant.) Carroll describes it poignantly on his title track: “When your life leaves not even a spark, all you can do is glow in the dark.” This is his glow.
Account to Me
Every once in a great while, a recording comes along that shakes up a genre, begs to be trumpeted to the world, and perks up the ears of normally aloof, dispassionate music critics. Account to Me is just such an album, a lovingly crafted, sonically ingenious tribute to legendary blues harmonica player Gary Primich, a friend and musical inspiration to Grand Rapids’ own Hank Mowery. A singer and harp virtuoso, Primich (who was raised in Indiana) left the world way too soon, dying of acute heroin intoxication at 49 in 2007. He also left behind a treasure trove of heartfelt music and some unfinished songs that Mowery – with the permission of Primich’s family – completed as part of this brilliant collection of Primich originals, favorite blues covers and Mowery originals. The vintage, analog touch of Grand Rapids’ Goon Lagoon studio gives the project an authentic, retro sheen that perfectly showcases Mowery’s singing and tasteful harmonica explorations, not to mention the masterful musicianship of his Hawktones bandmates and guest guitarist Jimmie Stagger. .
Music critic and entertainment writer John Sinkevics comments on the local and national music scene at LocalSpins.com, spotlighting artists at 10 a.m. Wednesdays on Local Spins Live at News Talk 1340 AM.