Quick non-bloggy writing heads up: I recently got to interview Barry Privett, the lead singer of Carbon Leaf, and while the article doesn’t appear to be online yet, you can grab a print copy of River City Magazine/West End’s Bestat these locations.
Carbon Leaf is a name you hear and see quite a bit living in Richmond, but I didn’t know the group’s full backstory — how they all lived together in one house on Floyd Avenue at one point, how they were originally a cover band and had to make the tough transition to playing original music, which venues in town they played in their early years… At the same time that Carbon Leaf has evolved over the years, they’ve been a constant amid a great deal of change during the last two decades. Really interesting, I think. I hope y’all will grab a copy and then grab a ticket to their show this Saturday at The National — should be a really good time.
First, a quick follow-up to yesterday’s American Tunes post — if you have any songs you’d recommend for the series, please let me know. Would love to get more people involved.
I’ve been on a serious Steve Gunn binge. After getting the split Record Store Day 12-inch he released with Angel Olsen, I’ve snagged used copies of two of his older albums, Time Off and Way Out Weather. Deep Groove had both, and after chatting with Chris at the counter about Steve Gunn for a bit (he said this era of Gunn’s career was when his John Fahey and Jimmy Page influences intersected), I decided to keep the pair together.
I’m very much digging the new Ryan Adams tune, and I got way too many chuckles out of the “interview” he did with Lil’ Bub. “Do You Still Love Me” has signifiers that date its influences pretty clearly (it’s hard to hear that first big hit without thinking of Survivor), but his use of space on the song is really interesting. It sounds so empty, and given the emotional place he was writing from, there’s a solid form-theme relationship happening there. Really neat, I think.
Noam Pikelny — the banjo player from Punch Brothers — has a new album coming out soon, and he’s shared a track called “Waveland” that’s simply amazing. If this is any indication, Universal Favorite could pick up on some of Punch Brothers’ more classical tendencies, which would be very exciting.
Heading to Gallery5 tonight for Nels Cline’s sold out show. Very psyched. I haven’t heard much of his non-Wilco work, and I haven’t done much research on the other two members of this trio, but all that was intentional. I know his jazzier stuff can get way out there, and I’m walking into Gallery5 tonight with no expectations. Blank slate. Let’s get weird. If you’re not headed there, I suggest Strange Matter, where Futurebirds, The Trillions, and Camp Howard will be playing. Great night for music.
Since the election, I’ve been trying to think of ways to make this little corner of the Internet more… something. Productive isn’t the right word. Influential? Helpful? I just don’t want to keep feeling like there’s more I could and should be doing to make a difference, especially when it comes to the political realm.
A week or so ago, I decided to start a series of quick posts that each share a song that reflects what’s happening on the national stage. Protest songs. Thoughtful, incisive songs. Songs that help when you’re feeling like all is lost. Who knows what the next four years have in store, but I know this much: We’re going to need to stick together and motivate one another. The only thing stopping me from starting the series was a title. I was coming up pithy crap like “2020: Are We There Yet,” but I don’t want to count down the days until this crazy person is out of the White House. We need to make these days matter, and sarcasm doesn’t feel like the right the way to do that.
I was mulling this over on the way to lunch with a friend. We were going to Mission BBQ, a spot that has great brisket, pretty good mac and cheese, and more patriotism than any other restaurant I’ve been to. Tributes to various branches of the military and first responders line the walls and everything stops at noon each day so patrons and employees alike can stop, remove their hats, and salute the flag while the National Anthem is played over the PA system. There’s even a flag hanging down in the middle of the dining area that everyone faces. It reminds me so much of the start of NASCAR races at RIR (minus the flyover).
I started going to those races not long after I graduated college, when George W. Bush was president. That was a time when patriotism had been strategically claimed by the political right, and in some ways, being at those races and participating in gushing displays of patriotism felt transgressive. Like I was signing off on something I didn’t agree with. At the same time, it felt transgressive in a positive sense, like I was reclaiming something that should never have been taken from me in the first place. Being proud of where you’re from can certainly go off the rails and turn into an ugly form of nationalism, but patriotism isn’t inherently bad — and it’s certainly isn’t exclusively owned by the party that won the most recent election.
While I was driving to Mission, I caught myself dreading their noontime ritual. I wasn’t looking forward to standing there and wondering how many people in that restaurant voted for Donald Trump, but I thought back on those late 2000’s NASCAR races, and that’s when it hit me: American Tunes. That’s what I’ll be sharing. Some will be quiet, some will be loud. Some will be sad, some will be angry. Some won’t even be by Americans. But my hope is that each one will help on the rough road that lies ahead, because I’m not willing to let the right wrap themselves in the flag and claim this country as theirs. Let’s stay focused, stay inspired, and maintain our stake in a shared and crucial project that’s been going on for nearly 250 years.
Each post will include a song, maybe a few key lyrics, and a recommendation for when I think the song will be most useful. We’ll start with Allen Toussaint’s version of the Paul Simon classic that this series and Toussaint’s final album borrow their names from. I’ve been listening more closely to its lyrics, and they describe this perplexing and worrisome moment in America pretty aptly:
Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
But I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home
And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
But it’s all right, it’s all right
We’ve lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road we’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what went wrong
This one’s for when you need to be reminded that we’ve made it back from the point of despair before, and we can do it again.
Back in October, I had the opportunity to see Evan McKeel perform at In Your Ear studios for one of their Shockoe Sessions. I even got to chat with him before his set. We talked about basketball — Duke, the NBA, how the Warriors would fare with Kevin Durant joining the team — and we talked about Richmond’s music scene and his excitement at immersing himself in it.
His set at In Your Ear was short, but he needed only sing a few lines for me to hear what millions of fans of The Voice had already heard — a truly incredible singing voice, able to ascend with ease and smokier than his years, with a natural distortion that provides texture and complements his precision. When I thought about the literal and figurative stage that he’d occupied on TV, sitting in that studio listening to him seemed like such a gift. It quickly sank in that he could sing pretty much any song he wanted to, which begs the question: What do you do when you can do anything?
The immediate answer for McKeel is a forthcoming album of earnest and original compositions that will be released under the name Skinny-E. The lead single from the album, “Love Again,” was just made available last Friday, and it’s an impressive, poised opening salvo. It’s sparse — vocals and guitar dominate the mix — and while that sense of space puts his voice front-and-center, it also gives you a chance to appreciate McKeel’s amazing facility with chords and structure. In that sense, I hear a great deal of Stevie Wonder’s influence (Wonder is a stated point of reference, and “Overjoyed” figured prominently in McKeel’s Voice run).
It’s crazy to think of “Love Again” as a starting point, but here we are, and it’ll be interesting to see where Skinny-E goes next.