Buy from Bandcamp today… again!

I’m knee-deep in some non-bloggy writing, so this’ll be an abbreviated celebration of Bandcamp Friday. Nevertheless, I’m here to: 1. Encourage hitting the ‘camp hard today in support of artists who will be getting a bigger piece of the financial pie as a result of Bandcamp temporarily waiving its cut, 2. Recommend the gorgeous album of harmonium/synth accompanied guitar pieces by Cloud M & Gregory Darden entitled Tape One (I sure hope a Tape Two ends up happening), and 3. Share a list of links to other items I have my eye on today (down there below Tape One).

Happy Bandcamp Friday, y’all.

Cloud M & Gregory Darden — Tape One

Hotspit — CC
Angel Bat Dawid — Hush Harbor Mixtape Vol. 1 Doxology (cassettes were sold out but a few dozen copies were made available!)
Phoebe Bridgers — “Kyoto” (Bartees Strange Remix)
Mary Lattimore — Collected Pieces: 2015​-​2020 
Benét — Game Over! (I snagged a cassette copy at Plan 9, but same price on Bandcamp gets you limited edition custom shoelaces while supplies last)
Philip James Murphy Jr — “triumphant captains do smell terrible
Luke McMurray Nutting — Getting To Lupita 
Daniel Bachman — Live at the Olive Mill
Outer World — Chapter 2
Dori Freeman — Ten Thousand Roses
Curt Sydnor — Deep End Shallow
Various — A New Dawn Fades / The Late Virginia Summers split 7″
Various — ActBlue Support Texas Abortion Funds (OK this isn’t a song or album, but it’s a convenient way you can financially support organizations working to mitigate the effects of the disastrous Texas anti-abortion legislation)

Buy from Bandcamp today… again!

I’m celebrating this sunny August Bandcamp Friday in Bay Head, New Jersey, on a family vacation just down the street from where my grandparents lived. Beach badges. Coffee cake. Lots of pizza. Lots of bagels. (Too many bagels. I didn’t realize that was possible, but it is.) And lots of Springsteen, Bill Evans, and Screaming Females being spun in celebration of the Garden State.

We’re heading back to Richmond tomorrow, and while we won’t be able to avoid sitting in traffic, we’ll at least have a great soundtrack for the drive, courtesy of the artists below. As a reminder, Bandcamp Friday means the sales platform is waiving its cut of sales, so your financial support goes directly to labels and artists.

FONVILLE — VIBES FROM HOME

Another exciting expansion of the Butcher Brown Universe™.  Drummer Corey Fonville released this new set of VIBES FROM HOME just last week, and outside of a couple of guest contributions (from current and former Butcher bandmates DJ Harrison and Keith Askey), it’s his own work on drums, bass, rhodes, keyboards, and organ. Love this new window into just how complete Fonville’s skill set is.

Pace! — “Brass Villain” (Doom Tribute)

Reggie Pace of No BS! Brass Band and the Hustle Season pod released this excellent MF DOOM tribute back in July, on the late, great metal-faced rapper and producer’s birthday. Mm..Brass.

Doug Richards Orchestra — Space & Sound, Vol. 1

Recorded at Spacebomb Studios in August of 2019, arranged by VCU jazz program driving force Doug Richards, performed by so many Richmond luminaries that listing them all would stop this post in its tracks, engineered/mixed/mastered by Adrian Olsen and Trey Pollard… there is nothing not to like about this four-song collection, which just hit the ‘camp the other day. Absolute can’t-miss stuff.

Amelia Meath & Blake Mills – “Neon Blue

So excited the Sylvan Esso crew has started a label, and what a way to start a singles series — with an Amelia Meath/Blake Mills collaboration, and a Sam Gendel alternate version on the flip side.

The Modern Folk — Primitive Future II 

You may be shocked (shocked!) to learn that the guy who is simultaneously wearing a WarHen Records patch hat and a WarHen Records “Steal Your Hen” t-shirt while typing this sentence is psyched about the Charlottesville label’s newest offering — an instrumental album called Primitive Future II from The Modern Folk. Very much enjoying the two tracks that are streaming so far, “Essie and Lynlee” and “Club Sequence.” Very different moods, both wonderfully evocative.

More fun stuff on my radar for today:

Christian Lee Hutson — The Version Suicides, Vol. 3
Ohbliv — Not Of This Earth
Philip James Murphy Jr — guillotine
Dori Freeman — Ten Thousand Roses
Various — Habibi Funk 015: An eclectic selection of music from the Arab world, part 2

Buy from Bandcamp today… again!

As they did last year, Bandcamp is commemorating Juneteenth by hosting a fee-free Friday. 100% of the platform’s cut of sales will go to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, so it’s a great day to pick up some new music.

I had a quick quartet of recommendations I’d like to throw out there, in case you’re looking for some inspiration:

Ohbliv — LewseJoints 9

New Ohbliv. If you rilly know, you know.

William Tyler & Luke Schneider — Understand

Leaving Records just announced this one, and I would very much like one of the 250 cassette copies to be sent to my house. Two guitarists I dig a great deal joining forces.

Charles Owens Trio — 10 Years

Charles Owens on sax, Andrew Randazzo on bass, DJ Harrison, drumming — excellence all around. This whole album is killer, but I must ask you to take five and a half minutes out of your day to give their version of “Rainbow Connection” a listen. It’s so wonderful. I’m especially fond of the interplay between Owens and Randazzo — how they team up to convey the song’s timeless lyricism. I think I’ve listened to it a dozen times since last weekend. Hoping to hear it when the Trio opens for Butcher Brown (long night for Randazzo and DJ Harrison!) at Friday Cheers next weekend.

Butcher Brown — ENCORE

Speaking of Butcher Brown, I had the pleasure of interviewing the band for Style Weekly, and the article went up earlier this week. I hope you’ll give it a read. Butcher Brown is as close to the beating heart of Richmond’s music scene as a band could be, and it was an honor and a joy speaking with them about their path through and out of 2020.

Also very much recommend giving their new ENCORE EP a listen. These five tunes were recorded during the #KingButch sessions, and while they may not have fit the scope of that album, they form a top-shelf 15 minutes of listening, every bit as varied and vibey as the tracks that did appear on the LP.

BONUS: tangent — The Great Society

Speaking of varied and vibey, I’m a big fan of the music Kelli Strawbridge has been releasing as tangent. He shared a four-song EP entitled The Great Society in May, and its greatness is rooted in Strawbridge’s versatility. All instruments and vocals done by Kelli.  It’s such an impressive skill set, and I love how “northerneck” explores the areas of his expertise.

BONUS: Pace! — “Coast City” feat. Lydia Adelaide

Speaking of Hustle Season podcast hosts with incredible skill sets, this tune from Reggie Pace featuring Lydia Adelaide has been a constant car ride companion since it was released in May. Amazing how it manages to evolve and unfold over the course of just two and a half minutes.

Side note: If you’re not yet part of the Hustle Season Patreon, click here to fix that immediately. I listen a little each night while I’m doing dishes and putting the house to bed, and I can’t tell you how much of a difference it makes having that last part of the day be so enjoyable. As far as podcast routines go, I’d give it a resounding SLAP.

Justin Golden

I thought I’d start off the week by sharing a song that’s been an uplifting presence in my life — Justin Golden’s new one, entitled “Arm’s Length.”

I chatted with Golden for a River City Magazine piece published at the very start of 2020, and it stands in my memory as such a rewarding conversation. It was a joy learning about Golden’s journey and influences, and about his devotion to musical preservation. Here’s one passage of that interview that stuck with me, about why he started transcribing lesser-known blues songs from the past:

What motivated you to start transcribing?

Documentation and performance. I’m not really so worried about recording it for me to put out to make money. I just want to have it in my repertoire, and be able to show it. In the blues community, some people are considered culture-bearers, or torch-bearers, and I think I’m starting to be one of those people. I feel the charge to actually get out there and do it, because that’s what I like to listen to, and another 100 years goes by and no one’s going to know how to do this…

“Arm’s Length” is a testament to the timelessness of Golden’s approach. The sharp guitar licks, the simmer of the slide, the overall warmth of the mix… “Arm’s Length” is a joy to listen to, and it paints a vivid picture of Golden’s knack for making traditional elements feel fresh and vibrant.

Most of all, I love how cathartic the chorus is. I think we all need to hear that “It’s ok” from time to time, and it’s especially meaningful hearing that in between verses in which ambiguity is present.

Whatever the upcoming week brings, I bet it’ll be better with “Arm’s Length” in your life.

Buy from Bandcamp today… again!

Is this the last Bandcamp Friday? I certainly hope not. I’ve found these monthly fee-free days to be so fun and meaningful — maybe even a little frantic, but in a good way. There’s always so much going on, from new albums and surprise tracks to labels unearthing a few last copies of something you thought was sold out forever. (If you missed out on the “foxtail orange” variant of Tucker Riggleman & The Cheap Dates’ Alive and Dying Fast, I have good news…)

Then again, with more and more music fans getting vaxxed up and tours getting booked for summer and fall, I get that a post-COVID world is inching closer. We’ll see what Bandcamp decides to do. Regardless of what happens next, I applaud the way they stepped up and provided a lifeline to artists when one was so sorely needed, and I hope we all — fans, bands, labels — remember what these days felt like. You certainly wouldn’t go so far as to say that Bandcamp Fridays cracked the code when it comes to fair artist compensation in the streaming era, it feels like there have been some valuable takeaways. The way clustering releases funnels and organizes demand… the way foregrounding direct artist support changes the value proposition… (Just now realizing how much this all mimics a farmer’s market. Hm.)

ANYWAY, let’s party like it’s 1999 and dance like nobody’s watching and love like there’s no tomorrow and snag some awesome music today. Here are a few recommendations I wanted to share:

McKinley Dixon — For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her

I want to wish a very happy release day to McKinley Dixon.  His new album, For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her, is stunning, and I had the honor of chatting with him about it for Style Weekly — you can read that article online here or snag a copy of Style around town over the weekend. I picked my paper copy of the article up on Wednesday, which also happened to be the day my snazzy orange vinyl copy of the album came in the mail. (Looks like there’s still some of those left — don’t snooze, though, because I can’t imagine they’ll last long.)

Dhemo — To Be In Reverse

Speaking of McKinley Dixon, guitarist Jake Adams is among a handful of musicians who contributed to all three parts Dixon’s trilogy (Who Taught You To Hate Yourself?, The Importance Of Self Belief, and the new one out today), and I highly recommend the album Adams released as Dhemo late last year, To Be In Reverse. It may scan as laid back, given track titles like “Been a Good Day,” “Slow,” and “Couch Song,” and the calmness of the cover art, but it’s a consistently adventurous set of songs — both Adams’ playing and singing are gorgeously expressive and ranging. Did I mention that several tracks feature sax from Nathanael Clark — another Dixon trilogy mainstay?

Bryan Hooten — OCCIPITAL1

Bryan Hooten also knows a thing or two about range. While his last release consisted of four solo recordings that explored multiphonic trombone techniques, OCCIPITAL1 features no ‘bone whatsoever. “I left the trombone on the stand for this one and explored some beats,” he said in a message to Bandcamp followers. (I wanted to say “No ‘bones about it” somewhere in here but Mrs. YHT advised me not to.) But I love how both albums give you a sense of Hooten’s process, and also how they feel like a reintroduction. I’ve seen and heard Hooten play numerous times with No BS! Brass Band, but getting to know him in this more zoomed-in context is really rewarding.

Gold Connections — “Confession

I’ve long admired the way Gold Connections songs stick with you — how Will Marsh manages to make memories into music and music into memories. But his new tune “Confession” is absolutely epic in this sense. It’s massive both in terms of the echoing depth of the song’s sound and in the way the lyrics in the chorus stretch time and space, illustrating how meaningful human connections span any distance. It’s an outstanding song, and here’s a Bandcamp Friday Fun Fact™ for you: Will Evans from Charlottesville’s Stray Fossa (included in April’s Bandcamp Friday post) assistant produced “Confession” AND contributed toms and hi-hat!

Prabir Trio — Haanji

I wrote a review of Prabir Trio’s “Slowly” for The Auricular last November — it’s such a moving song, and I jumped at the opportunity to pick up a vinyl copy of the album it’s set to appear on. Limited edition silk screen pressed album covers, y’all. Not many are available, so make it your first order of Bandcamp Friday business. It certainly was mine.

Speaking of the Trio, band member Kelli Strawbridge has a new EP out today entitled The Great Society.  Very excited to give that a listen as well.

PJ Sykes — Fuzz

Today’s also release day for PJ Sykes’ Fuzz, an album that grew out of Sykes’ COVID lockdown experience. The liner notes describe it as an “expression of life during extremely trying times,” and while there are lyrics that speak directly to the challenges of the last year, I’ve been visiting and revisiting “Holding On” as a result of a line that strikes me as totally timeless — a bittersweet truth that tends to sink in when you’re just on the other side of a turning point:

“And I swear when this is over / I’ll know just what to do”

The flip side of learning and changing is looking back on the emptiness that was waiting to be filled with new understanding, and I love how Sykes captured that here.

Annie Stokes — No Cover Covers vol. 8

You had me at “Lovefool,” but “Both Sides Now” as well? Couldn’t make room in the ‘camp cart fast enough.

More fun stuff on my radar for today:

Lightning Bug – A Color of the Sky
tangent — “Reset On You Pt. 1
Carlos Niño & Friends — More Energy Fields, Current
DJ Harrison — Vault Series 11: Tinted Ghetto Visions
Pace! — “Coast City” feat. Lydia Adelaide
Tennishu — Maybe
Alabaster dePlume — “Invincibility
Lonely Rooms — “All Good Things
DarkTwaine_ — “Esoteric Jam

Buy from Bandcamp today… again!

I’m currently knee-deep in some non-bloggy writing that I’m excited to share soon, but I couldn’t let a glorious spring Bandcamp Friday like this pass without sending out a few recommendations. Without further ado:

Opin — Hospital Street

Opin Tweeted out a heads up about this release on Wednesday, saying “38 minutes of hard techno/drone/soundtrack explorations on deck for Bandcamp Friday.” My reaction? An immediate and unequivocal “Yes plz.” (Sometimes there’s too much excitement for typing out whole words.)

DJ Harrison — Pen Eyes 💨

New DJ Harrison = another immediate “Yes plz.” (The emoji in the album title might be a YHT first. I’ll have to do double-check that, but I love that it’s handwritten in the album art as well 👌)

Curt Sydnor — The Consort

Been enjoying getting to know this album from Richmond-based pianist and composer Curt Sydnor. So dreamy, and so wonderfully off-kilter. A limited supply of transparent, hand-cut, 10″ lathe-cut copies are available.

Stray Fossa — With You For Ever

Speaking of dreamy, With You For Ever — courtesy of Charlottesville’s Stray Fossa — promises to be a 2021 highlight in the realm of dream pop. There’s a textural fluidity to these songs that makes them feel so beautifully built-out and multi-dimensional. Each listen hits a little differently. Full album out next Friday, but four songs are streaming now. (Cheers to Andrew Cothern for the heads up about this one in his excellent RVA Playlist newsletter!)

Gerycz / Powers / Rolin — Beacon

We don’t always get second chances in life, but the kind folks at the Centripetal Force label managed to secure a few more vinyl copies of the dulcimer-drenched drone-y excellence that is Beacon, the handiwork of a trio formed by Jayson Gerycz, Jen Powers, and Matthew J. Rolin. Don’t snooze. I bet these will go quick.

More fun stuff on my radar today (check back for updates):

Avery Fogarty — “until tunnels
Jones/Kuhl/Harris/Clarke/Pharr/Parker — 08​.​06​.​2013
Marisa Anderson/William Tyler — Lost Futures
Carlos Niño & Friends — More Energy Fields, Current
PJ Sykes — Fuzz (preorder just went live!)
Ohbliv — Rugged Tranquility Volume 1 & 2 (white vinyl still available)
tangent — “Rate Your Heart
Borrowed Beams of Light — No Cover Covers vol. 7

Buy from Bandcamp today… again!

A quick 6-pack of recommendations for your March Bandcamp Friday. Cheers to directly supporting amazing art!

Elkhorn — Southern Star

Can’t resist including Elkhorn here, given the great conversation we had recently about their new live album and the group’s creative process. Hope y’all will give that interview a read if you haven’t already. Today is a great day to grab a copy of Southern Star on cassette. Just 200 copies were made, so act fast. (Also of note: Jordan Perry, one of the guest musicians on Southern Star, has a new collection of fretless guitar improvisations out today. And have you snagged Drew Gardner’s self-titled jam yet? You should!)

Shovels & Rope — Busted Jukebox Vol. 3

Did y’all catch the infomercial-style album announcement Shovels & Rope did for this? Too good. Volumes 1 and 2 in the Busted Jukebox series have been winners in my book, and I’d just been wondering — hoping — if and when they’d release another volume.  So excited they have, and the subject matter hits especially close to home after the past year. Definitely looking forward to auditioning “My Little Buckaroo” as a possible lullaby replacement for the PJ Masks theme song. (Take a quick listen and imagine yourself sweetly singing that to someone in the dark to try to get them to fall asleep. It’s consistently the strangest minute of my day.)

Ross Gay — Dilate Your Heart

Two quick thoughts on Dilate Your Heart. First, if you haven’t heard “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude,” please set aside 15 minutes for an uninterrupted listen as soon as humanly possible. You will walk away a changed person. I promise. Second, I thought I’d started lucid dreaming when I initially scanned the list of musicians who collaborated with poet Ross Gay for this album. Bon Iver. Mary Lattimore. Angel Bat Dawid. Gia Margaret. Sam Gendel. I know deep down that this crew wasn’t assembled with my specific musical interests in mind, but it certainly feels that way.

Matthew E. White & Lonnie Holley — Broken Mirror: A Selfie Reflection

I was lucky enough to be there at the Broadberry in 2017 when Lonnie Holley opened for Matthew E. White. I was in attendance at the VMFA in 2019 when White and an all-star group of frequent collaborators joined Holley for a set that followed a screening of Holley’s directorial debut, I Snuck Off the Slave Ship. You better believe I’m showing up for an album Holley and White made together. So excited for this. As Holley might say, “Thumbs up for Mother Universe!”

More Spacebomb-related excellence: If you haven’t yet put in your preorder for McKinley Dixon’s upcoming LP, here’s where you can fix that.

Sara Bug — Sara Bug

I love the way “Die With You” starts — the way Sara Bug’s voice emerges from the swell of guitar and strings that precedes the songs first lyrics. It gives her voice an uncanny quality that lingers throughout the rest of the song. Really cool. Another great album on the way from EggHunt.

Lance Koehler — “Datura Summer

Speaking of amazing song openings, I love the way Lance Koehler’s latest sets a beatific stage before blasting off in a number of intense sonic directions. It seems especially fitting given the lyrical references to the Mississippi River, which has its own twists and turns, and which is placid from afar but far from gentle once you’re in it.

Also on my radar today:

Jake Xerxes Fussell — “Hills of Mexico
Nick Mazzarella / Quin Kirchner — See or Seem: Live at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival
Carlos Niño / Sam Gendel — Raindiance / You’re Suspended
Damon Locks/Black Monument Ensemble — NOW
Book of Wyrms — Occult New Age
Radio B & DJ Mentos — “Fan’s Choice
ragenap & the Barnaby Bennett Players — “like a hurricane

An Interview with Elkhorn

For Drew Gardner and Jesse Sheppard, the who, what, when, where, and why of music are inextricably and inspiringly linked. 

The two guitarists have been on a shared journey to the heart of improvisation since the mid-1980s. Since 2013, they’ve performed and recorded as Elkhorn, with Sheppard laying down a foundation of 12-string acoustic guitar for Gardner to build 6-string electric structures atop and around, resulting in adventurous pieces that create space for the listener’s own internal exploration. I’m always surprised and delighted by the places I travel when I close my eyes and let Gardner and Sheppard’s playing do the navigating. But place is much more than a byproduct, and the duo’s new live album offers a window into how unique spaces and the people who inhabit them are intentionally woven into the fabric of their creative process.

Southern Star arrives this Friday, March 5th, via WarHen Records, compiling performances from the spring 2020 tour leg that the group completed before the pandemic put a halt to live music everywhere. It’s not the first time they’ve made the most of a change in itinerary. Their previous two releases, The Storm Sessions and the follow-up Acoustic Storm Sessions, were recorded at Gardner’s Harlem home studio during a blizzard that wiped out a show they were scheduled to play in Brooklyn. I leaned hard on those albums throughout 2020, a time when isolation and canceled plans became the norm. Those albums embodied a type of lemons-to-lemonade optimism that I needed in my life, while offering reassurance that even when we’re temporarily kept separate from one another, the art we make connects us in the long run, and always will. 

As Southern Star documents beautifully, Elkhorn’s music thrives on connection. Five of the album’s six tracks feature guest collaborators — musicians who themselves are deeply connected to the areas in which their guest appearances took place, from “Harmonica Dan” Balcer and the Philadelphia Record Exchange to Mike Gangloff and his deep Virginian roots. (Head to the Southern Star Bandcamp page and you’ll notice the track names are venues and dates instead of song titles.) It’s not uncommon for bands to share bills with local performers, but in Elkhorn’s case, the people, places, and music are intertwined to an exceptional degree — one where the borders surrounding those elements melt away and the art is truly one with the circumstances in which it was made. 

I had the pleasure of learning a few weeks back that Gardner and Sheppard are just as open and generous in conversation. Over Zoom, we spoke about the end to their 2020 tour, the experience of listening back to those records, and how they approach the art of improvisation. While you read, enjoy this premiere of the second track from Southern Star, which was captured at Rhizome in Washington DC on March 7th, 2020, with Mike Gangloff and Nate Scheible as guests.

You Hear That: At the risk of diving right into pandemic talk, Southern Star is the product of a tour that was cut short, correct? 

Jesse Sheppard: With this tape especially, you kind of can’t get away from it. In a nutshell, we had this tour planned, which was two legs. One was southern, focused around Virginia, and we were going to tour with the Eight Point Star guys. Then we were going to do a northern leg that was centered around Massachusetts with Glenn Jones… 

We went on the road and you could sort of hear about the pandemic coming during the first days of that first leg. But actually, and Drew will confirm this, when we got off the road, we weren’t sure if Massachusetts was going to happen or not still, because these were all small-sized gigs, and we had just seen the big festivals get closed down… Then the smaller gigs started closing over the course of a week between the two legs, to the point where we were just like “What’s happening here?” 

When that second leg got canceled, it left us with some time to do what we normally do over a long period of time after we tour, which is go through the tapes and listen back to what had happened.

YHT: When I’m in the audience at a show, I’m always hoping it’s being taped for a live release down the road, so I can relive that moment later. Is recording shows a regular part of Elkhorn tours?

Drew Gardner: We tend to be tapers, and connected to taper culture a little bit. For this tour, I brought what’s kind of a classic Grateful Dead bootleg microphone intentionally to capture it — this AT822 microphone. We’re definitely into taping everything…

One of the cool things about what [this] tape represents is that, for each of these gigs, the music is really affected by the spaces that we’re in — the physical spaces that we’re in, and the social spaces that we’re in. It’s unique physical spaces, and it’s unique combinations of people… The human vibe around the communities that we’re playing in makes a big difference on what you’re hearing in the music. And obviously with the guest musicians as well.

JS: Which goes back to your point about taping, and how taping, and especially this tape, really, reflects all these different environments. So that Black Swan tape is a bookstore environment, [and] then you’ve got that salt cave, which is a totally different live performance space from any other, and the tape takes you through all these different physical spaces, as well as a little bit through time. 

Elkhorn with Mike Gangloff at Oddfellows Hall in Blacksburg, VA on March 8th, 2020. Photo courtesy of James Adams.

YHT: This release is a big milestone for WarHen Records, given that it’s their 50th release. How did you link up with Warren?

JS: We just linked up at that show. He did the poster for the show, he knew the store, and honestly I really don’t know exactly what his relationship to our music was prior to that. Kind of like you, he heard it, it hit a groove, and off he went. 

That is really the kind of central piece of this whole conversation we’re having with ourselves, because we’re finding out the ways in which the music responds to not having an outlet, or how you create outlets without audiences, or all the stuff that’s going on in the pandemic. But prior to that, that’s what was so powerful. It wasn’t just moving through these spaces, but moving through these social interactions, like Drew was saying. Meeting people on the road, building up relationships… that’s really what touring was about, and making music was linked into and wrapped in that. 

Now we’re sort of like “What else is out there? How does the music evolve without those interactions, or how do you maintain those kinds of interactions? 

YHT: In a sense, the Storm Sessions albums managed to build a pre-pandemic framework for making those types of remote connections.

JS: That’s actually almost thin ice in a way. When the pandemic hit, and we had these two almost concept albums in the can about how you process experiences like this, we didn’t want to make that connection overtly, but it was right there in front of us. 

I think what we did is what we always do, which Drew talks about a lot, actually, which is double-down on the piece of the music that’s healing. Because that’s really where we’re at. We’ve suffered some mortal wounds as a community and as individuals, and everyone’s processing those all the time — pandemic, pre-pandemic. And so it all fit together really powerfully.

YHT: On that topic of healing, I found your music to be essential in 2020 in part because of how it manages to transport you mentally. It’s a way of traveling while staying in place. Do you feel transported when you play, or is staying present too important to the process of improvising? 

DG: I think there’s a couple of interesting things there. First of all, the thing about the Storm Sessions reflecting the pandemic situation is strangely true. To me, that was about “Hey, this is not a great situation, this is a negative situation” and focusing on “What we can do to make this constructive?” Which is a thing I’ve needed during the pandemic for sure. Every day you have to focus to be like “OK, this is bad, but I gotta make this constructive.” It can show you that if you can have a constructive philosophy, you can improve things. 

What you say about being present is the main thing for improvisation. But the other thing is letting yourself dream a little bit. In life and the social world, there’s not a lot of space to dream in. But if you can get a protected musical environment, I like to be able to create a music where other people can dream when they’re listening to it… That thing of allowing yourself to dream is essential, to me, for the improvisation, and for connecting to the listener.

JS: I feel like that piece Drew was talking about, about trying to be constructive, actually goes to what you were saying, Davy. Without a performative context for the practicing that I’ve been doing, I feel like it’s allowed me to get more involved with the centered, present space of improvisation in a way that I always wanted to, or always needed to. That’s always been the goal, but now I feel like I actually, through the past year, have gotten closer and closer to it, and I’m hoping that I can bring that into my practice once we’re out in front of each other again.

Elkhorn at Oddfellows Hall in Blacksburg, VA on March 8th, 2020. Photo courtesy of James Adams.

YHT: Do you remember the first time you took that leap of faith and improvised together?

DG: We’ve been doing that since high school… I can’t give you a date, but it was in the mid 80’s sometime, and it was a jam we did in a band called Mayfirst we were in at the time that was in a church. And it was really a jam. That would be the earliest one. It was us doing post-punk music, but it was still improvised.

JS: It was like Joy Division meets Sonic Youth, or something like that. 

YHT: In terms of the trajectory of your collaboration, does it feel like you’re exploring further and further afield, or like you’re getting closer to something essential?

DG: I couldn’t really say. The band has its own evolution, which we just kind of try to follow. I always feel like I’m trying to follow the music, and I’m trying to find out where it’s going. That’s how I think about it.

JS: Touring creates a lot of movement and evolution. Even in the history of global evolution, there are periods where things speed up in the evolutionary process, and slow down, and that’s true with this music that Drew and I are creating as well. And it’s been interesting to see how it’s ebbed and flowed, and touring kind of speeds it up, but it’s definitely been evolving, even during this period where we haven’t been playing together, in a variety of interesting ways… 

And yes, the answer is we’re trying to find more and more and more freedom, but I think both Drew and I appreciate that freedom is not just energy music at full blast to your face all the time. Freedom for us is the freedom to be really beautiful and pastoral and explore things that are very organized and almost proggy, and then move back to things that are very spacious and open and improvisatory, and trying to find where this music and our music hits in all those places is what I think we’re moving towards. 

YHT: Were you aiming for that type of range when choosing tracks for Southern Star?

DG: We do like the recordings to have a journey aspect to them where you go from one place to another place to another place. Certainly variety and contrast, too.

JS: The sets, too… One of the ways that we refresh the listener’s ear in a setting is to specifically make sure that we do hit a few different tones throughout a set. But another way we do it [is] interacting with different musicians. Every time we tour, we look for opportunities to do that in different places we hit as well. And I have to say first and foremost, one of the most transformative things about this tour was hanging out with Mike Gangloff, and seeing how he interacts with music, which is really powerful. That went for all the players that we hung with at various points.

YHT: Was there anything that surprised you as you first listened back to the recordings?

DG: One thing I like is that with the guest players, we’re often throwing them in without a huge amount of practice. I like the sound that produces, because people are focusing, you know what I mean? So you can get a novel sound out of some of those songs, and when you’re coming back and listening to it, you’re almost listening to somebody else’s song, because an unpredictable element has been introduced into it.

JS: Jordan [Perry] was a perfect example of that. We had never played with him before. I had never even heard him play electric guitar. But at the same time, I just knew how his brain worked, and I knew he could follow where Drew was going to go. I knew he would be able to stand up in the music. 

Elkhorn with Mike Gangloff at Oddfellows Hall in Blacksburg, VA on March 8th, 2020. Photo courtesy of James Adams.

YHT: How do you balance leading and following when improvising with a guest performer?

DG: Trying to give them some structure [and] give them a context where they can feel comfortable and where they can say what they want to say is the main thing for me. Make an arrangement where they can do what they want.

JS: The idea is to create enough structure so everyone knows where they are, but have it loose enough that anyone can say what they got to say. We’ve actually worked on how to do that through the set construction process over time.

DG: And there are decisions you can make in it. I often take on the audio engineer role in various ways in the band, and one thing I did in the Harmonica Dan set was that I could mix his volume while we were playing. I heard something when we were playing, and I intentionally turned him up louder than he would have been normally because that’s what I was hearing, and I liked the way that sounded. So I could mix while I was also playing. That’s a thing that’ll happen sometimes.

YHT: What’s the setup like that allows you to do that in real time?

DG: That was at the Philadelphia Record Exchange, and it’s a tight space, so I could control all the guitar stuff and also reach over and be able to control the balance, which is somewhat random. I would normally be thinking in terms of mixing anyway. What you’re going for is a collective sound that works — of people being together.

YHT: That’s such a cool example of the environment making its way into the music.

DG: That’s why each track is unique. It’s in its physical space and its social space. I would hope that you get that sense of traveling through these unique spaces.

Southern Star is available digitally and as a limited edition cassette via WarHen Records starting this Friday, March 5th.

Many thanks to Drew and Jesse for the fun and insightful conversation, to Warren at WarHen for helping to coordinate, and to James Adams (host of Aquarium Drunkard’s outstanding 10-part Dylan bootleg program Pretty Good Stuff) for his photos, research assistance, and encouragement.

 

Buy from Bandcamp today… again!

Merry Bandcamp Friday, y’all! It’s that magical day when kids of all ages rush downstairs and check to see if the cookies and carrots they left out overnight were eaten before opening their laptops and showing the world that supporting art meaningfully and directly is not a thing of the past.

(Wait… y’all don’t do the cookies and carrots thing? Just me?)

It wasn’t clear if these would continue when I posted about December’s fee-free event, and we went without one in January, so it’s great to be back in action.

As we all know, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and in this case, it would appear that how much fonder is directly proportional to the length of the absence. Having twice as long to look forward to the next Bandcamp Friday has translated to twice the usual number of recommendations.

Hope you find something you enjoy below:

Wild Pink — A Billion Little Lights

Speaking of back in action, are you signed up for the RVA Playlist newsletter yet? (If not, fix that immediately!) I love having Andrew’s music recommendations in my life, and one he shared in Issue #2 that I’d cosign wholeheartedly is the upcoming Wild Pink album. This is shaping up to be one of 2021’s musical high water marks. I’ve been so entranced by the songs out so far from A Billion Little Lights that I’ve been turning to 2018’s Yolk in the Fur for supplemental listening, and that’s another gem. And also available on Bandcamp!

Yasmin Williams — Urban Driftwood

Me last Thursday: Oh interesting — a guitarist from Woodbridge, VA was reviewed by Pitchfork. This album looks interesting, and lead single is really gorgeous.

Me last Friday: THIS ALBUM IS MIND-BLOWING AND INNOVATIVE AND AFTER REFRESHING THE BANDCAMP PAGE 12 STRAIGHT HOURS IT’S BECOME CLEAR THE FIRST PRESSING IS GOING TO SELL OUT WITHIN THE DAY THANK GOD I GOT MY ORDER IN H$^#*F*ZSA)^@

Life comes at you fast, y’all. If you’re vinyl-inclined and missed out, there’s good news: Williams’ label is taking orders for a second pressing that will be available in 4-6 weeks.

Tucker Riggleman & The Cheap Dates — Alive and Dying Fast

I’ve been spending a bunch of time with this one. There’s music you get, and then there’s music that gets you. Let’s just say I feel seen by the chorus of “Void,” which goes a little something like:

And I just want to listen to “Let It Be”
Westerberg not McCartney
I just need some attitude
To sing along to
Every night while I shout into the void

There are all these moments on Alive and Dying Fast where the lyrics perfectly crystallize a thought or experience I’ve been having. “I never know how to pray” at the start of “Spill The Blood” is one. Another is “I gotta try to love myself a little better this year,” from the chorus of “Manic.” In truth, serendipity isn’t the sole reason these lines resonate. Riggleman pairs moments of clarity with the everyday mayhem that surrounds them, such that you earn those rare realizations as you listen along. It’s beautifully immersive writing — highly recommended for a nightly shout into the void.

Patricia Brennan — Maquishti

Another one I’ve been spinning non-stop. It’s subtle. It’s daring. It’s soothing. It’s surprising. It’s at home both in the foreground and the background. When I’m not listening to this, I’m thinking about the next time I can. I’m completely in awe of what Patricia Brennan has created. Nearly an hour of solo vibraphone and marimba — a journey whose twists, turns, cliffs, and clearings have completely rewired my connection to these instruments.

Jones/Hopkins/Pollard — Kaleidoscopic Haze

Some Bandcamp pages are like worlds unto themselves — places that make you want to set up camp and explore every sonic nook and cranny.  (Can you tell that Mrs. YHT and I recently made our way through The Mandalorian?) I landed on the Bandcamp page belonging to Richmond-based jazz drummer Brian Jones on a weekend in late January, and my immediate thought was “I never want to leave this place.” My currently plan is to work backward through the 30+ releases there, starting with this killer four-song set entitled Kaleidoscopic Haze, with Jones on drums, Adam Hopkins on bass, and Trey Pollard on guitar. The force is strong with these three.

Madlib — Sound Ancestors

If you haven’t read the The New Yorker article entitled “The Obsessive Beat-Making of Madlib,” I recommend giving it a look. It’s a depiction of devotion as true as you’ll find anywhere. One line in particular has stuck with me: “For Madlib, making music is as elemental as eating or sleeping, though he claims to do very little of the latter.” He’s in that rarified air where you’re not just playing music, in the sense of playing an instrument or a melody. He’s playing music itself, in the same way people often describe Brian Wilson using the studio as an instrument. As you can hear so clearly on Sound Ancestors, Madlib’s love of music is zoomed-out and all-encompassing.

Scott Clark — This Darkness

I was so moved by This Darkness (and by Scott Clark’s work in general) that I worked up a review for The Auricular. A quick snippet:

Clark’s music stands out in its willingness to forge pathways to those places where introspection is needed most. The neglected places. The shameful places. There is just so much of that to contend with right now. It’s encouraging to think somewhere in there is a seed of progress waiting to grow. It’s equally encouraging to have music to turn to when you want to work toward cultivating it, and This Darkness is exactly that.

Opin — Media & Memory REMIXED

Opin and FM Skyline on the same track?

[Nods furiously in agreement.]

Koncept Jack​$​on & Ohbliv  — JET MagaZINE ’21 Reissue

Koncept Jack​$​on and Ohbliv together on an entire album?

[Continues nodding furiously in agreement.]

Hotspit — “Obsessive Care

Hotspit’s toolkit is a diverse one, and recently released single “Obsessive Care” provides an excellent overview. It ranges from ethereal to crunchy, pensive to powerful, restrained to riotous. It’s a seriously action-packed 5-minutes. (Also exciting: It’s the first single to be released from an EP that’s on the way.)

Clever Girls — Constellations

Speaking of range, the three songs released so far from the upcoming Clever Girls LP shine in such different ways, and I’m totally hooked. “Baby Blue” is especially arresting, with an opening riff that sets a vivid vibe, and a chorus that takes your breath away.

More great options for this month’s Bandcamp Friday:

Helado Negro — Dormído En La Sílla
Cassandra Jenkins — An Overview on Phenomenal Nature
Colleen — The Tunnel and the Clearing
John Calvin Abney — Wildfire Suite
DarkTwaine_ — The Psychodynamics Of Self Realization 
Alan Good Parker — Fakie
Sam Gendel — Fresh Bread
Drew Gardner — Drew Gardner
Michael Millions + DJ Mentos — “Steel Blue
Jake Xerxes Fussell — “Copper Kettle

“He’s Gone”

Yes, Wednesday was mainly significant because of the inauguration of a new president and vice president, but I have to imagine it’ll also go down as a truly great Internet day. The text chains with friends and family.  The wonderment at Amanda Gorman’s recitation of “The Hill We Climb.” The first wave of Bernie memes. Truly top-shelf stuff.

That said, one moment of celebration stuck with me longer than the rest, and that was the cover of the Grateful Dead’s “He’s Gone” that M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger posted to Instagram. Click here to have a look, if you haven’t already seen it. I can’t embed it here, but it’s well worth a watch.

Coincidentally, I also started Inauguration Day with the Dead. I asked my three-year-old son to pick an album for us to listen to while I made coffee, and he ran over to my records and grabbed the “Skull and Roses” album. I dropped the needle and quickly got a chuckle out of how fitting it was to greet the last day of Trump’s presidency with “Bertha,” given the last line of its chorus: “Bertha don’t you come around here anymore.” It’s quite possible, I learned later, that the song was playing at the very moment Trump was boarding Marine One. Now that’s a happy thought.

M.C. Taylor’s restrained but undeniably joyous version of “He’s Gone” was much more meaningful, though, and it’s an illustration of how flexible songs are when it comes to meaning. (That can be a bad thing, as we know all too well from Republicans’ use of “Born in the U.S.A.” at campaign events, but that’s a whole other story.)

The Dead debuted “He’s Gone” on a Danish TV show in April of 1972, and a performance of it from less than a month later would appear on the celebrated Europe ’72 live album. It was written as a sardonic tribute to the band manager (drummer Mickey Hart’s father) who absconded with more than $100,000 of the band’s money, and it sounded jauntier out of the gate than it would become. Over time, the tempo slowed, and that spaciousness lent sincerity as the song became a vessel for mourning. March 19, 1973 was a turning point in that sense — that performance of “He’s Gone” followed Pigpen’s death by less than two weeks, and the song’s significance began to swell. (“It became an anthem for Pigpen,” Dead lyricist Robert Hunter noted in 1991, and some fans would even erroneously peg Pigpen as its inspiration.) The version from the Mississippi River Festival in August of 1980, less than a month after Keith Godchaux died, is another moving one, as is the “He’s Gone” on Dick’s Picks Volume 9, which featured one of the first shows after the 1990 death of Brent Mydland. It’s hard to imagine being in the audience those nights and not thinking about those (very) recently departed one-time band members, even without an explicit dedication. The verses don’t address mortality directly, and they’re less sympathetic than an intentional elegy might be, but the chorus packs a serious punch when it comes to confronting loss:

And now he’s gone
Now he’s gone, Lord he’s gone
He’s gone
Like a steam locomotive rolling down the track
He’s gone, gone, and nothing’s gonna bring him back
He’s gone

Within the context of death, the directness there is almost jarring. “Deal with it,” it seems to say. It’s even more brutal in light of all the experience the group accrued in the area of forging ahead while grieving bandmates who died young. But there’s a kindness to Jerry Garcia’s voice that blunts the impact, giving it the feel of a come-to-Jesus conversation with someone who’s been though this before, and who cares deeply about you. The tough love you needed, whether you were ready for it or not. We don’t often get to choose when we say goodbye, and “He’s Gone” is the rare vehicle for collective grief that challenges listeners at the same time that it comforts them.

Fortunately, we do get to choose when we say goodbye to presidents. (Democracy! It’s pretty great!) Things may have felt a little less certain than usual in the hours leading up to President Biden’s inauguration, given Trump’s refusal to concede and the insurrection, but therein lies the unique pleasure of singing this song in this moment. “How could I not play this song today,” Taylor asked before beginning his rendition. And how could I not watch several times in a row, grinning along to the “Nothin’ left to do but smile, smile, smile” line, and taking comfort in the chorus’ embrace of absolutes? The repetition scans differently right now — less like frankness and more like pinching yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming. The erosion of objective truth has taken its toll on everyone, not just the neighbors and uncles who have been ensnared by conspiracy theories, and it’ll take time to recover from four years of having to labor — often in vain — for acknowledgement of that which is plainly obvious. Hearing the words “he’s gone” sung over and over is a little like a bearded Robin Williams hugging you and saying “It’s not your fault” until it finally sinks in.

Taylor’s Instagram post did take issue with the “Nothing’s gonna bring him back” piece, saying, “It’s all too clear that that everything the so-called former President embodies, the cancerous cells present in our political system, will definitely come back if we’re not diligent.” As much as it feels like we can breathe more deeply with an actual adult in the White House, it’ll take time to tune out the baseline hum of concern that became a constant companion these last four years, especially with the pandemic still raging. And I’m with Taylor in thinking that we need to put in the necessary interpersonal, political, and legal work to ensure he’s truly gone for good. Still, it’s pretty damn satisfying to sing along with the chorus of “He’s Gone” and allow yourself to believe every single word of it, even if it’s just for the length of the song. (Conveniently, the running time regularly surpassed the 10-minute mark.)

A little later in the day, with texts and memes still rolling in, I got ready to go for a run. The Grateful Dead have been a regular part of my running routine since the early days of the pandemic, when I started making my way through the 36 from the Vault podcast — an in-depth, album-by-album companion to the 36-volume Dick’s Picks series. I’m currently on Dick’s Picks Volume 15, and before picking the album up where I’d left off from my last run, I thought about how amazing it would feel to hear “He’s Gone” on this particular night. I try not to look ahead at the track lists, in hopes of replicating what it would have been like to experience the shows in real time, but I was tempted to look this time. I’m so glad I didn’t. After making my way through few leftover minutes of “Eyes of the World” and an energetic “Samson and Delilah,” I heard exactly the intro notes and tempo I was looking for, and a glorious, 14-minute “He’s Gone” unfolded like an overly generous gift from the universe. Talk about needing to pinch yourself.

About halfway through my last mile, I hit the song’s coda, in which the the lyric M.C. Taylor urged caution over — “Nothing’s gonna bring him back” — is sung repeatedly in three-part harmony. Dick’s Picks Volume 15 pulls from a show that took place in Englishtown, New Jersey on September 3, 1977, and that night’s crowd came ready for the “He’s Gone” coda, clapping and singing along, becoming part of the song in a way that reminded me of the function of community in making good on the new meaning of that phrase. “Nothing’s gonna bring him back” is a promise we have to make to one another. While reflecting on that, I neared a house that I knew had kept its Trump 2020 flag up well after the election had been called, wondering if that too would be gone. It wasn’t. We are still firmly in the “broken American moment” Taylor described in his moving song “I Need a Teacher.” Putting things back together — beating the pandemic, restoring a commitment to facts, rebuilding burnt relational bridges — will be hard work. And that work will require all of us.

Maybe not you-know-who, though. He’s gone.

Listen below to the Englishtown rendition I encountered on my run, click here to check out M.C. Taylor’s version, and be sure to also give a listen to the recently released Hiss Golden Messenger single, “Sanctuary.”