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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Crosby & Nash

If you haven’t already heard it, here’s a link to the ProPublica article that contains audio of children who were recently separated from their parents by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It’s as wrenching a piece of audio as you’ll hear. I listened last night after the rest of my family was asleep, and I wanted to go upstairs and wake my kids up just to hold them. I didn’t make it all the way to the end, but I tried, because this feels like one of those times when it’s important to look what’s happening directly in the face. It’s ugly and evil and can’t be ignored.

This morning I stumbled across “Immigration Man,” a song Graham Nash wrote after a run-in with U.S. Customs. That incident looks like a minor inconvenience when held up next to what’s happening to children on the Mexico–United States border, but the lyrics remain stirring. If you’re stirred enough to want to take action, here’s a link to an ActBlue page that will distribute your donation between charities working to help children separated from their parents at the border. And please vote in November. It won’t be the last time you hear me say that.

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Steve Bassett

On one of this year’s first truly beautiful spring days, I drove out to the grounds of the Montrose recording facility to interview Steve Bassett, who has a pre- and post-production trailer parked near the studio’s main building.

This was actually my second time speaking to Bassett. Longtime followers of this here blog might remember that I wrote a magazine piece on Virginia’s state popular song, “Sweet Virginia Breeze,” which Bassett cowrote with another Richmond legend, the late Robbin Thompson. And while I had separate phone conversations with the two writers for that article, I got to meet them both in person shortly thereafter, at an early evening show up in Ashland. They graciously signed my copy of their Together album. I also snagged a copy of Bassett’s autobiography, Sing Loud, which was being sold at the merch table.

I’d recommend picking up a copy. Inside, you’ll find insight from someone who has truly drilled to the core of what it means to live a life in music. Someone who has learned the secret to accessing the joy in just about any type of musical environment. I certainly felt that joy when I spoke to him early this spring, with seed pods falling from the trees and stories flowing — about his new album, Tres Leches, and the incredible journey that’s taken him from Muscle Shoals, Alabama and Carnegie Hall to the steps of Virginia’s Governor’s Mansion.

The resulting River City Magazine article is available online over at Richmond Navigator, and I hope you’ll give it a read there or pick up a print copy. The layout is wonderful, with photos by Jennifer Challis taken at Bassett’s recent show at the Broadberry, which was excellent. Thank you, Jen, for sharing those, and thank you to Steve for the conversation. I won’t soon forget it.

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Virginia’s Travel Blog

Hot off the blog presses — my latest post for Virginia’s Travel Blog is up! I explored a few ways you can walk in the footsteps of some of Virginia’s musical legends, from Ralph Stanley and Dave Matthews to Bruce Hornsby and René Marie.

One fun addendum: I included a section on Jason Mraz, and while it focuses on his involvement with SPARC (School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community) and their annual LIVE ART show, Mraz brought this idea full circle by releasing a video that was shot in and around Richmond, meaning he’s essentially walking in his own footsteps. So meta. Check the video out below and click here to read my “Where They’re From” post on Virginia’s Travel Blog.

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