Small Friend Records and Books

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I’d like to share a link to an article I wrote about a place I’m truly thankful for: Small Friend Records & Books. I had an opportunity to interview the shop’s owners a little while back, and it was such a pleasure learning about how they got started, how they envision their store’s role in the Shockoe Bottom community, and how they see that space evolving in the future. They have such clear and admirable passion — not just for music, books, and zines, but also for the ideas represented in and by the items they stock.

Here’s how I started the piece:

When you walk into a house and scan the walls and shelves for the first time, you learn a lot about the people who live there. In that sense, Small Friend Records & Books, which opened its doors on 17th Street in April, feels as much like a home as a place you’d go to buy albums or novels.

I’ve written about this before, but one reason I care so deeply about — and am so thankful for — the record stores here in Richmond is the way they represent the importance of a sense of place in our lives. Places connect us to other people. They keep us engaged with those people, even when we don’t agree with them. And places connect us to our past, helping us better understand our present and future. Without a sense of place, we are diminished.

Small Friend is a wonderful place, and I hope you’ll take a few minutes to check out the interview. More importantly, head downtown to check out Small Friend for yourself. I’ve been there a number of times, and of the albums I’ve snagged there, I think I’m most in love with my copy of the Wild Wild Country original score, which was composed by Brocker Way — brother of the pair of brothers who made the Netflix docuseries. (There are three brothers total. Well, three brothers involved in the series. I guess they could have other brothers… I’m gonna stop. You get the idea.)

In many ways, the show is itself a meditation on the idea of place — on what it takes to build an organic community, and how quickly a place can grow without losing its sense of self. Here’s a favorite track of mine from the score — the elegiac “Church and State.”

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Trey Pollard

Really neat shindig happening tonight at the Hofheimer Building in Scott’s Addition. Trey Pollard will be debuting pieces from Antiphone, his soon-to-be-released album of contemporary chamber music (out Friday — preorder here). They’ll be played by a string quartet in collaboration with Classical Revolution RVA, an organization that aims to present classical music in inventive ways “by taking it into local bars, restaurants, cafes, and galleries.” Did I mention Matthew E. White will be opening? This promises to be special, y’all. Hope to see you there.

If you’re interested in learning more about Antiphone, be sure to check out the interview I did with Pollard for the Auricular. He was incredibly candid and thoughtful throughout our conversation, and I think you get an especially keen sense for the dedication he brings to his work, whether he’s composing original pieces like the ones being performed tonight or arranging songs written by others. Here’s how Pollard put it when we spoke:

Matt and I talk about it a lot. The craft of what you do is important… It’s about how you go about it — caring about the details, caring about the parts that make up the bigger thing.

While Antiphone certainly represents a moment of cultivation, it’s also a window into how Pollard approaches music on a daily basis. In that sense, his story and Spacebomb’s are one and the same: When you do things the right way, it shows. And Antiphone is nothing short of an achievement. What a gift it’ll be to see these pieces in the live setting.

Get your ticket here, check out my interview with Pollard here, and listen below to a piece from the album entitled “8 Pairs: Fugue VI. Very Slowly.”

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VOTE

Big day today. I bet many of y’all have already voted, but for those of you who haven’t or are on the fence, I want to add my voice to the many I’m sure you’re hearing saying things like “Vote!” and “Please vote!” and “This could be the most important midterm election in our nation’s history, so for crying out loud, PLEASE VOTE.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: Democracy works best when all of us are involved. Your vote matters. You matter. Please vote.

For those in Virginia: Here’s the information I typically share about what forms of ID you can bring to the polls, this time in the form of a handy YouTube video:

For those of you who have already voted and are nervously awaiting results, I thought I’d share some self-care music to get you through the day. (I know I’m a nervous wreck, and I’m leaning hard on tunes like these today.) Courtesy of a Mark Richardson tweet, here’s Charlie Haden and Hank Jones playing “Going Home,” which is based on a passage from Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9.

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Matthew E. White

This. All damn day.

Listen below to Matthew E. White’s “No Future In Our Frontman,” a protest song that’s as blistering in terms of groove as it is in terms of commentary.

Here’s a taste of the latter:

There is no future in our frontman
There is no gracefulness to his song
There is no melody in his choir
And I refuse to sing along

I love this metaphor so much. Not only is it incredibly apt, it’s profoundly ironic, because it brings into relief just how devoid of art our president’s life must be. Can you imagine him engaging in the creative process in any way? He danced to “My Way” to celebrate winning a democratically held election, for crying out loud.

If you dig the song like I do, click here to snag a 7-inch vinyl copy and/or its companion t-shirt, which was designed by brilliant artist and musician Lonnie Holley, who recently released a powerful statement of his own on the state of our democracy. (If you’ve been following this here blog, you might remember Holley was the opening act for White’s 2017 show at the Broadberry with Flo Morrissey in support of Gentlewoman, Ruby Man.) Proceeds go to voter registration and participation charities. Great song, great cause. Check it out.

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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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