The Ada composer turned an artist-in-residence project into a ‘beautiful’ song collection. Local Spins on WYCE spotlighted the album while also debuting new tracks by Gianna Stansell, Jeff Socia and more.
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Award-winning West Michigan pianist and composer Roger MacNaughton firmly believes there are few more inspiring places to create art than Mackinac Island.
“With all the history that’s there and just the magnificence of the island itself, it’s just a warm, inviting place,” said MacNaughton, who recently released the album, “Mackinac, I’ve Come Home,” after being selected as an artist-in-residence by Mackinac State Historic Parks.
MacNaughton spent two weeks in “a nice little apartment” overlooking the Straits of Mackinac in 2019 writing songs and crafting ideas for the recording project — part of a parks program designed to encourage new artistic works inspired by the island’s beauty.
“I brought along my digital piano and my laptop and I was writing songs every day or writing music every day,” the veteran musician recalled. “It was just a fabulous time.”
The result is 13 tracks of calming, New Age-styled, mostly instrumental music boasting titles such as “The Island Beckons,” “Mackinac Island Hymn” and “Bike Ride on Lake Shore Road,” with violinist Susan Mora and cellist Andrew Plaisier joining MacNaughton.
“From my window, I watched the sailboats out on the bay,” he said. “That became (the album track) ‘Sails On Haldimand Bay.’”
The Ada-based composer who’s won four ArtPrize song contest awards also called on Grand Rapids-area singers Tami Hjelm and Kyle Rasche for two songs that feature lyrics.
For this week’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE, MacNaughton featured “There’s Something About This Place” and “Mackinac Island Love Theme.” Listen to “There’s Something About This Place” here and listen to the full radio show podcast below.
LISTEN: Roger MacNaughton, “There’s Something About This Place” (w/ Tami Hjelm)
It’s not the first time MacNaughton has explored Michigan’s natural beauty for a musical project. His 2012 album, “Michigan Morn,” was inspired by “Michigan’s natural wonders” with songs such as “Grand Traverse Bay” and “Petoskey Stones.”
“My wife, Megan, grew up in New Jersey and (after) she moved here she said, ‘I wouldn’t trade this state for anything.’ It’s so beautiful, especially the northern part of Lower Michigan and up in the Upper Peninsula,” MacNaughton insisted.
“There’s so many beautiful sites to see and we’re just lucky to live in this state.”
MacNaughton, who’s released a dozen albums over the years, performed Thursday night in the first of St. Cecilia Music Center’s live-stream jazz piano concerts, aired online for free to viewers. (Scroll down for a photo gallery from Thursday’s concert. Ralston Bowles and Michael Crittenden play the next live-stream concert at St. Cecilia on Thursday, Jan. 21.)
WORKING AT HOME; JUGGLING NEW BAND PROJECTS
While MacNaughton “lost a slew of great gigs” due to the pandemic – including the debut of a new trio, Soul ACCESS, with Hjelm on vocals and Jon Montgomery on saxophone – the pianist conceded he’s a bit of a “homebody” who spends much of his time hanging out in his home studio anyway.
Still, he’s hoping Soul ACCESS can officially make its debut at a rescheduled July concert for LowellArts’ Summer Sizzlin’ Concerts Series this summer.
MacNaughton also has been part of the MacRaven & Mora trio with Mora and late cellist Steven VanRavenswaay.
VanRavenswaay tragically passed away last year, so MacNaughton said the band plans to re-emerge as the Honey Creek String Ensemble with Plasier replacing VanRavenswaay. The pianist also books shows as the MacMora duo with Mora and remains part of the jazzier ensembles MacNaughton Boulevard and Jon Montgomery & RMQ.
Beyond that, he’s involved in the “Tami Project” featuring Hjelm.
“I’ve been writing bluesy rock songs for her and she has recorded vocals for most of them,” he said. “Soul ACCESS will perform a lot of them, but I think I will promote it as Tami’s solo project.”
Learn more about MacNaughton and listen to his music at rogermacnaughton.com.
In addition to spotlighting MacNaughton, this week’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE — which showcases music by Michigan artists at 11 a.m. Fridays on WYCE (88.1 FM) — debuted new tracks by Michigan artists Gianna Stansell, Jeff Socia, Colt Snuffer & The Dead Horsemen and Vine Street Alternative, as well as featuring music from Josh Rose (the musician’s pick by MacNaughton), Ralston Bowles, Michael Crittenden, Lady Ace Boogie and Roosevelt Diggs. Listen to the podcast here.
PODCAST: Local Spins on WYCE (1/15/21)
PHOTO GALLERY: Roger MacNaughton at St. Cecilia Music Center (1/14/21)
Photos by Derek Ketchum
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