Jarlath Henderson

The Richmond Folk Festival is rapidly approaching, and I’m beyond excited to share that I had an opportunity to chat with one of the three-day event’s most accomplished and anticipated performers, uilleann piper Jarlath Henderson.

Henderson hails from Northern Ireland, and he occupies a crucial creative space: the sacred middle ground between giving voice to tradition and forging a new path forward. Around the time we talked, I was immersing myself daily in the wonderful “new” John Coltrane album, Both Directions at Once, which is a dispatch from that same creative space. I ended up mentioning Coltrane to Henderson, and we talked a little about that idea of moving forward and backward at the same time.

Here’s what he said:

As a musician, I think you move from either being very sure of yourself to very unsure of yourself constantly, and it’s very hard to be sure of yourself. But within the traditional music world, in general, just like in any niche market, like bluegrass, there are the hardcore fans who really want things to be the way they were. But after a certain amount of time, it becomes more of a historical representation of a time gone by rather than an accurate representation of now. At the end of the day, it’s just a form of folk music, and it has to be for the people. It’s an interesting place to be.

Click here to read the rest of the interview, which appears in the current print edition of River City Magazine, and click here for more information on the Folk Festival.

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Old Crow Medicine Show

I love seeing shows at Maymont. I was just there a few weeks ago for Shovels & Rope, and it was outstanding. The surroundings are gorgeous — just inside the main Maymont gates, with rolling hills in the background and trees here, there, and everywhere. It’s a breath of fresh air — literally and figuratively — compared to many indoor (and outdoor) venues.

A few nights stand out in my memory as especially meaningful. Béla Fleck is one. Gillian Welch is way up there — seeing her pay tribute to Guy Clark by playing “Dublin Blues” was otherworldly. Another highlight was seeing Old Crow Medicine Show there in 2012, and I’m thrilled they’ll be returning to Maymont this Friday. (Tickets here.)

They’re touring behind a strong batch of new tunes in Volunteer, which was released in April of this year. Though the album features a characteristic mix of upbeat romps and slower, sweeter songs, things feel elevated on this album. “Whirlwind” tugs especially hard at nostalgic heartstrings, and “Flicker And Shine” pushes a truly frenetic pace, showing off the adrenaline-addled fifth gear that’s always set the band apart from many of its peers.

I’m especially stuck on “Shout Mountain Music,” though. While it too picks up the pace, it’s an example of how Old Crow can reach back to the roots of old time country and reveal something that feels wild and organic. And it capitalizes on one of my favorite techniques of theirs — grounding lyrics in specific geography, so they feel more real, and more connected to the places that have played a role in the living history of country and folk music. And I have to admit: Whether it’s “James River Blues” or “Shout Mountain Music,” it’s always fun to hear Richmond called out in an Old Crow tune.

Hope to see y’all there on Friday.

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Drive-By Truckers

A quick Friday recommendation for you:

This deep-dive on Warren Zevon by Steven Hyden via the Ringer. I have a few of Zevon’s records — two handed down from my father-in-law, one I found at Goodwill — but I knew very little of what Hyden shares about the singer-songwriter. I found the piece to be incredibly moving, especially on the topic of how to reckon with a complicated legacy like Zevon’s. As Hyden admits, it’s more than a little uncomfortable seeing yourself reflected in Zevon’s story. But I think it’s a good discomfort — the kind that lets you know there’s an important lesson to be learned by feeling and following it.

Hyden also taught me something about the Drive-By Truckers, whose headlining set I’m hoping to catch tomorrow night on Brown’s Island at Stone’s Throw Drown. I’ve heard the Truckers encore with “Play It All Night Long” at least a couple of times, but I had no idea it was a Zevon tune. (Tunes, if you’re counting the incorporation of “Ain’t That Pretty at All.”) It sounds so much like them. Now I’m tempted to draw all sorts of parallels, like how the immense weight of the Truckers’ sound when they’re at their sludgiest could have a slightly cleaner forebear in “Detox Mansion.”

Here’s hoping they play “All Night Long” tomorrow night.

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Gold Connections

I’ve lived my whole life along the I-64 corridor in Virginia — Norfolk until I graduated high school and then Richmond for college and beyond. It’s a stretch Gold Connections frontman and leading creative force Will Marsh knows just as well, given his Charlottesville roots and his time spent at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg. His drive between home and school probably wasn’t too different from mine — between an hour and a half and two hours if the traffic was kind. Worse on summer weekends when the Outer Banks were in business.

We had the opportunity to speak over the phone early in June. The first full-length Gold Connections album, Popular Fiction, had come out a few weeks before, giving me more than enough time to fall hard for Marsh’s writing and knack for studio decision-making. I’d also gotten a kick out of tracing the way standout tracks like “Salt” and “Isabel” evolved from versions he recorded in 2014 with W&M contemporary Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest for the self-titled Gold Connections EP, which didn’t end up being released until 2017. Hearing more about how those two projects took shape and the tremendous care Marsh puts into how his music is presented was really interesting, and it got me thinking about I-64. Whether long or short, there’s something sacred about the time between recording and releasing music. How many times did those songs provide a uniquely private soundtrack to a drive along that stretch of road? What else might the people next to us on the highway be carrying with them? What hopes, problems, and creations?

All that said, Marsh is looking and driving squarely forward, with an outstanding debut LP and the backing of Richmond’s EggHunt Records. Click here to read the River City Magazine article I wrote about our conversation. It’s in the inaugural issue of River City as a standalone publication, and I’d love it if you grabbed a copy around town or checked it out online. You can hear yet another version of “Isabel” below, from a Bridge Room Session I’d recommend highly.

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Mighty Joshua

It recently hit me that I’m approaching a momentous tipping point: I grew up in Norfolk but moved to Richmond for college when I was 17, and that was nearly 17 years ago, so in a matter of a month or so, I will have lived in Richmond as long as I lived in Norfolk. It’s a weird thing to think about — especially at a time when I keep hearing about exciting changes taking place in Norfolk in recent years.

One of those recent developments is the NEON District, an intentionally drawn area of downtown where arts institutions, businesses, and events have coalesced to harness Norfolk’s creative energy. The Chrysler Museum, the Virginia Opera, the D’Art Center, Work | Release, glass working, tons of street art… taken together, these resources represent a tipping point of their own — a destination for visitors and a gathering place for folks in town. Really neat.

It also makes a pretty snazzy backdrop for an Overcoast Session. Longtime YHT readers might remember the Dharma Bombs’ Overcoast Session, which was filmed at the Carter Family Fold in association with Virginia Tourism. Their newest collaboration finds Richmond reggae artist Mighty Joshua serenading the NEON District with “Them A Watching,” from his self-titled 2013 album. Check it out below.

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Sleepwalkers

Blessed be this day.

The birds are singing more sweetly. The sun is shining more brightly, rendering colors more vivid than had previously been seen by the human eye. And in a stunning reversal, Friday the 13th has officially been declared the luckiest day. Why?

Because Sleepwalkers have released new music. This is not a drill.

Fresh on the heels of news they were signing with Spacebomb Records, Sleepwalkers have shared “Wake Up” and “Reasons To Give Up In You,” both absolute gems. All hyberbole aside, this is a truly exciting day for those of us who fell in love with their 2014 album, Greenwood Shade, and have been waiting to see what their next move would be. A move to Spacebomb? The payoff couldn’t be more perfect.

Part of the newsworthiness of this moment is the fact that Spacebomb is putting out music they had “no direct hand in making,” as the label’s site puts it. “No need to improve on this maximalist pop masterpiece,” they go on to say, pointing to something that has always distinguished Sleepwalkers — their complete mastery of the studio environment. The group complements savvy songwriting and memorable melodies with a rare ability to envision and achieve specific moods and colors. This guitar effect. That snare sound. The specificity reflects a powerful knowledge of recording approaches from the 1960’s onward, and that focus on process is infectious — it invites ongoing deconstruction and appreciation as you notice how individual studio brush strokes come together to form something that’s undeniable and fun in aggregate. In short, it’s music that makes me like music more.

Speaking of fun, here are the videos for “Wake Up” and “Reasons To Give Up In You.” The former is home to a hook you’ll be humming along to for the foreseeable future, with guitar work that captivates just as quickly. The latter offers a sense of buoyancy that swells and swells throughout, with a chorus that lifts you up and places you back down beautifully.

Go forth, dear reader, into this new and wonderful world that includes new Sleepwalkers songs. Long live the new Friday the 13th.

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VILLAGES

Happy summer, y’all! Now that we’re halfway through the year — with midway best-of lists popping up here and there like fireflies and hydrangeas — I’ve started looking back at the albums that have come out so far in 2018. It’s been eye-opening. This is shaping up to be a crazy-good year for Richmond music. A+ albums from Lucy Dacus, Kenneka Cook, Natalie Prass, Saw Black, Andy Jenkins, Scott ClarkYeni Nostalji, and others, all in these first six months. It’s pretty wild. And as of tomorrow, you can add VILLAGES to that list.

Their new self-titled album is a quick listen at seven songs, and it’s even quicker in terms of resonance. These songs are easy to love right away, and while catchiness plays a part, I think an even bigger factor is the clarity of Justin Paciocco’s songwriting. In his review of John Prine’s new album, The Tree of Forgiveness, Fresh Air critic Ken Tucker referred to the “metric precision” in Prine’s songwriting. I hear that same precision in Paciocco’s songs. The pacing, the rhyming, the way narratives unfold — it all just feels right. Impeccable, but not fussed-over.

Give lead single “Everything Is Fine” a listen below. The band will be toasting to the album’s release tomorrow at the Camel alongside The Northerners and Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires. Click here for more info.

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