Category Archives: #features

2018 in Review: Blasts from the Past

I know there’s virtue in living in the moment. We could all stand to put down our phones and more fully appreciate what’s happening right in front of us. Then again, escaping the present is pretty damn attractive these days. Nostalgia is a thriving racket, and to be fair, not all musical blasts from the past are about wishing for a time machine. From archival releases that uncovered hidden gems to reissues that made owning a piece of history a little easier, here are some noteworthy old sounds that were made new again in 2018.

Duck Baker — Les Blues Du Richmond

I picked up some pretty snazzy Record Store Day stuff this year, but this is a clear favorite. I didn’t actually get it on Record Store Day, though; it wasn’t really on my radar, but the more I read about Duck Baker and his Richmond connections, the more intrigued I was. Fortunately, a copy was still available a few days later. This set ranges from highly templated tunes like “Maple Leaf Rag” to discursive compositions that wander to unexpected places before reemerging. Really interesting, really fun. The folks at Tompkins Square do really great work with archival releases like this one. So glad I didn’t miss out on this.

Jack DeJohnette — Hudson

A blast from the recent past. This was released just last year, but it got a snazzy new vinyl reissue on Record Store Day in April of this year. I’m crazy for John Scofield’s guitar tone, so getting to hear him “sing” on creatively constructed versions of Dylan, Hendrix, and Band songs is a real treat.

Jonny Greenwood — Bodysong. OST

For a number of years, I’ve had a 45 with two “extras” from the Bodysong. score, so I was thrilled to see they were reissuing the score itself, which is wonderfully varied, creepy, and intense. Now I just need to see the film…

Hiss Golden Messenger — Devotion: Songs About Rivers and Spirits and Children

This was one of those “Whoa they made this just for me!” moments. Early Hiss. A rarities disc. Liner notes by Amanda Petrusich. I couldn’t resist, though parting with my old copies of Haw and Bad Debt wasn’t easy, even if it was the sensible decision. I think that copy of Bad Debt might still be at Deep Groove, if anyone’s interested. (And dammit you should be! It’s an incredible album.)

Jason Isbell — Sirens of the Ditch

I’d been meaning to get to know this album better, and I was happy to see some non-album tracks included here. While the new-old songs are well worth a listen, “In a Razor Town” remains a masterstroke.

Jess Sah Bi & Peter One — Our Garden Needs Its Flowers

An absolute gem from the gang at Awesome Tapes from Africa. This album radiates a powerful sense of warmth, even as it deals with themes as weighty as Apartheid.  I have the proprietors of Small Friend Records & Books to thank for this being on my radar. I saw it on their Instagram, listened, loved it, and zoomed to Shockoe Bottom to pick it up. I have a feeling it’s going to be an even more radiant listen in the spring.

Ben Kweller — Sha Sha

I’ve written about why Ben Kweller occupies such a special place in my heart. It has to do with my dad’s recommending Kweller’s old band Radish when I was young and in the process of learning how to play the guitar, and how the meaning of that recommendation has grown over time. I hope reissues of On My Way and Changing Horses are also (forgive me) on the way. The latter exists on vinyl, but I’ve never seen a copy in real life.

Joseph Spence — Bahamian Folk Guitar

While the reissue game can seem like a cash grab at times (especially when there are plenty of reasonably priced used copies available online), this is a great example of how upping supply can make spinning something really special — and Joseph Spence’s loose, complex playing is truly a wonder — less of a pipe dream. What a wonderful album to put on at home. If you have this on as background music, the air in the room feels lighter. If you listen intently, it’s like following discursive but gripping storytelling.

Sufjan Stevens — The Avalanche

If I could magically conjure stats on which I’ve listened to more — Illinoise or The Avalanche, I’m not sure The Avalanche wouldn’t win out. As far as extras albums go, it’s uncommonly strong. And I’d consider it an essential part of a full appreciation of Stevens’ gift. His is a story of impossible productivity, and few artists throw away ideas of this quality.

Gillian Welch — Soul Journey

I jumped on the Gillian Welch bandwagon with both feet when The Harrow & The Harvest came out in 2011, and I ended up ranking it as my favorite album of that year. But I’ve been slow to listen backwards in the Welch-Rawlings universe; so slow that — and I know I’m writing this on the Internet but please don’t tell anybody — I confused the announcement of the Soul Journey reissue with news of an upcoming album. WHATEVER. I’ve had the good fortune of seeing Welch and Rawlings perform a number of these tracks live in the last few years, though I’m not sure any of them tug at my heartstrings like “Back in Time” does. “I wanna go back” is right, am I right?

More 2018 in Review:

2018 in Review: EPs
2018 in Review: Jazz
2018 in Review: RVA
2018 in Review: 15 Favorites

2 Comments

Filed under #features

2018 in Review: Jazz

I think I’ve found a formula that’ll work going forward for which of these lists to do at the end of the year: One for EPs (posted that yesterday), one for archival or reissued albums, one for Richmond artists, one for albums that don’t fit into any of those categories, and then one more for a genre that stood out in some way during the course of the year. Last time around it was Americana, with exceptional releases by the likes of David Rawlings, Willie Watson, Dori Freeman, and Jake Xerxes Fussell. This year, jazz resonated especially deeply, so I thought I’d highlight five albums I was grateful to get to know.

John Coltrane — Both Directions at Once

I’m a big believer that you’re likely to feel a special connection to the first new album that comes out after you get into a band or artist. (The example I usually cite is Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief — an album many folks view highly but that I would rank one or two spots higher in their discography than others might.) Getting to have the Hail to the Thief experience with John Coltrane is such an unexpected treat, and Both Directions will always feel a little more meaningful to me as a result.

Julian Lage — Modern Lore

If you haven’t yet had a chance to read the Off Your Radar issue from November about Julian Lage’s Arclight album, I hope you’ll take a moment to have a look. Arclight is such a wonderful album — so fascinating in terms of the connection between the notes you hear and the tools used to create those notes. Modern Lore is cut from very similar cloth and features the same ensemble, and I’ll cosign it with just as much enthusiasm as I did Arclight.

Makaya McCraven — Universal Beings

This may be the most perfectly packaged album of 2018, and it’s not just about the weight of the paper used to make the cover or the art that adorns it. Each side of my vinyl copy — four total — features a distinct group of musicians, all united by Makaya McCraven’s exploratory process. Start side one and you’re in New York. Flip the disc, you’re in Chicago. Grab the second disc and you’re in London. Flip that and you’re finishing in L.A. No two sides sound the same, even though they share an approach that’s indebted to sampling yet unmoored via improvisation. Somehow, amid all the repetition, you still feel like anything can happen. That’s the brilliance of a hip hop producer like J Dilla, and McCaraven has managed to capture that electricity with live instrumentation. It’s as inspiring as it is fun to spin, whether you’re zoning out or zooming in.

The Nels Cline 4 — Currents, Constellations

Nels Cline and Julian Lage in the same ensemble? Yes please and thank you. They’re two of my favorite guitarists, and while they’re divergent enough in terms of style, there are still moments on Currents, Constellations when you get to wonder who’s playing. They’re both such inventive, intuitive musicians, and I love that they join forces from time to time. I haven’t spent much time with their Room album, but I plan to ASAP.

Kamasi Washington — Heaven and Earth

This dude. His band. This album. His last album. His show at the National in November. His show before that at the National. All of it can be overwhelming — not because it’s too much, or because his albums are lengthy and generously built-out (which they are), but because there’s an abundance of goodness you don’t find very often. Most musicians can tell you the story of why their tracks are titled the way they are, or what inspired a certain instrumental piece, but when Kamasi Washington tells you about how a song was created and why, it’s wildly compelling and convincing. He has a poise when he speaks that stands in stark contrast to the fury he can conjure when he plays, and the only way to reconcile those two states is to understand that what he’s presenting is the absolute truth as he sees it. Seeing him play means seeing what he sees so vividly. I believe in Kamasi Washington’s truth. You should too.

More 2018 in Review:

2018 in Review: EPs
2018 in Review: Blasts from the Past
2018 in Review: RVA
2018 in Review: 15 Favorites

4 Comments

Filed under #features

2018 in Review: EPs

I’m a year older. So is everyone I know. The Warriors have another championship. Sea levels are rising. Each day brings new horrors to America’s increasingly sad and bizarre political stage. Time continues its inexorable march forward.

Then again, some things are exactly the way they were at the end of 2017! Yet again:

  • It’s the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
  • I’ve spent the year tracking the albums I listened to (125 in total this time around) via a shoddily organized spreadsheet.
  • I’ve waited too long to start turning that spreadsheet into best-of lists.
  • I’m using last-minute panic as fuel to finish those lists, which mean more to me than they probably should.

Without further ado, let’s get this retrospective party started with a handful of alphabetically ordered EPs that I particularly enjoyed this year, starting with a two-parter that I recommend highly if you haven’t heard it/them yet:

Jackie Cohen — Tacoma Night Terror Part 1: I’ve Got The Blues

Some albums feel like fully formed universes — like you’re being invited to join something vivid and different that’s already in progress and has been for some time. That’s how it felt first encountering Jackie Cohen’s music via Spacebomb’s communication channels. From the off-kilter album art that accompanied Tacoma Night Terror Part 1 to the EP’s sound, which immediately called to mind the girl groups of the 1960s but felt more gothic and organic, somehow. It was one of those exciting “I don’t know what this is, but count me in” moments. To this day, it still feels like I’m entering and exiting a world when I start and finish this EP. Not something you come by often.

Jackie Cohen — Tacoma Night Terror Part 2: Self​-​Fulfilling Elegy

When Part 2 of the Tacoma Night Terror project was released, I started getting my hopes up about an eventual vinyl release that would compile both parts and bring the whole project full-circle, literally and figuratively. Vinyl Me Please to the rescue. The subscription service named Cohen a VMP Rising artist and pressed the Tacoma Night Terror set to gorgeous purple and blue vinyl. Its arrival and time spent on my turntable have provided a fitting sense of punctuation to a musical thread that’s run throughout my 2018.

The Fearless Flyers — The Fearless Flyers

Following along with the release of the Fearless Flyers EP was my way of peering into the greater Vulfpeck universe and looking around a bit. I’m really glad I did, because this is an exceptionally fun and funky set of songs, with a top-notch cover of “Under the Sea,” drums by the great Nate Smith, and a guest spot from Blake Mills, who contributes truly filthy slide guitar to the Flyers’ version of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours.” Take a listen:

Panda Bear — A Day with the Homies

This got the 2018 party started on my end. Released January 12. Exclusively on vinyl, so no sample tune to share. I find that a good measure of how the year went is looking back at the first album you really dug into in the new year and thinking about how long ago that feels. It feels like this record was release about 12 years ago. It’s a good one, though, and I’ve brought it out consistently when I’m cooking dinner and in a good mood. It’s not that the music is aggressively buoyant or anything; I think the title has really shaped my perception of the music, as has the fact that I can only listen while at home — where I tend to be more distracted and less able to zoom in on lyrics.

Moses Sumney — Black in Deep Red, 2014

“Rank & File” is one of the year’s best songs, and it may not even be the best song on this three-song EP. (Don’t sleep on the wordless “Call-to-Arms.”) I’m so glad Sumney decided to share this brief collection of tunes, which have thematic roots in 2014, when a grand jury decided against indicting the police officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. I wrote about “Rank & File” in RVA Magazine earlier this year, and I zoomed in on one lyric in particular: “If we make you nervous, what is your purpose?”

That question calls attention to the mangled power dynamics at work during protests like the one Sumney attended in honor of Michael Brown — complexity that finds a musical parallel in the song’s time signature.

More 2018 in Review to come…

2018 in Review: Jazz
2018 in Review: Blasts from the Past
2018 in Review: RVA
2018 in Review: 15 Favorites

4 Comments

Filed under #features

CD Monday

We have the Easter Bunny (hi, Mom!) to thank for the return of CD Monday.

Joan Baez’s latest was waiting for me in one of the Easter baskets hidden for my daughter to find, and I went ahead and started spinning it this morning. “The President Sang Amazing Grace” was playing when I made it to work, and I had a hard time leaving the car. It’s a really gripping and direct tune (written by Zoe Mulford), and Baez’s performance reminds me a little of her rendition of Bob Dylan’s “With God On Our Side” in how faithfully it renders the song’s sturdy structure. Maybe this is a leap, but both illustrate for me how you tend to cling to something solid when you’re shaken, physically or emotionally.

Joan Baez — “The President Sang Amazing Grace” (Zoe Mulford cover) [Spotify/Discogs]

Leave a comment

Filed under #features

2017 in Review: 25 Favorites

Last list, I promise. I limited this post to 25 albums, which is totally arbitrary, but I had to wave the white flag at some point. I always start writing these year-in-review posts with high hopes of streamlining the process in an effort to siphon as little time as possible from holiday celebrating with family, but something in me can’t help getting absorbed then overwhelmed. It’s a moth-to-the-flame thing. Odds are good it has something to do with mortality/the passage of time/wanting to hold onto and contain experiences so they — and by extension, I — don’t quietly disappear into a scary, nebulous past… but you didn’t come here for existential hand-wringing, did you? Oh, you did? Great! Let’s be sure to catch up after about physical media as an ineffectual bulwark against death!

A few notes before we get started:

  • I made some additions to the previous lists — Steve Gunn’s tour-only Dusted album was added to the list of live jams, and Elkhorn’s Black River album was added to the Americana list. I snagged both at Steady Sounds with Christmas money and it’s still 2017, so…
  • This is just the non-live, non-reissue, non-Americana, non-RVA top 25. Doing a ranked top 25 this year would have been really tough. I held on especially tightly to the music I loved this year. Maybe because I needed the distraction. Maybe because new music was just really good this year. It’s probably a little of column A, a little of column B.
  • Like the other lists, this one is ordered alphabetically.
  • I kinda regret not doing a list of EPs. Ian Chang’s Spiritual Leader EP was awesome, as was Delicate Steve’s Cowboy Stories. There’s also Kamasi Washington’s Harmony of Difference — I’m still getting to know that one, but I’m fairly certain it’ll become a favorite, based on what I heard at his show at the National earlier this month.

Enough preambling. Here are the best of the rest:

Ryan Adams — Prisoner

I didn’t end up connecting with the self-titled album that came before this one, in part because of the sound palette he was working with — more focused on 1980’s guitar sounds than is usually my cup of tea. Prisoner draws from the same well, but he seems more present in this one. And “Do You Still Love Me?” is a truly dynamite opening track. I was hoping he’d open his March show at The National with it, and he delivered. Love when bands do that.

Ryan Adams — “Do You Still Love Me?” [Spotify/iTunes]

(Sandy) Alex G — Rocket

I went a little nuts over this one. Step 1 was hearing the album and digging it. Step 2 was finding out that he played on Frank Ocean’s Blonde album. Step 3 was feeling crushed when I saw that a first pressing of the album had sold out via his Bandcamp page. Steps 4-18 involved various internal arguments about whether to order the first pressing from an online reseller — something I hate doing. I eventually caved. Not sorry one bit. It’s about as varied an album as I can remember spending time with this year — so many different flashes of brilliance.

(Sandy) Alex G — “Powerful Man” [Spotify/iTunes]

Dan Auerbach — Waiting on a Song

Did you know that John Prine has a writing credit on the title track? Or that Prine is pictured on the back cover? These are things I didn’t learn until I snagged a vinyl copy of Waiting on a Song the night Auerbach opened for Prine at The Altria Theater here in Richmond. What a show that was. That’s when this album went from something I enjoyed to something I really loved.

Dan Auerbach — “Waiting On A Song” [Spotify/iTunes]

Bedouine — Bedouine

There’s a quiet strength that runs through this whole album. It feels elemental. Inextricable. The Spacebomb flourishes are welcome and wonderful, but that strength never strays from center stage, making for an exceptionally compelling listen.

Bedouine — “One Of These Days” [Spotify/iTunes]

Father John Misty — Pure Comedy

I believe Pure Comedy was recorded before the last presidential election, and politics aren’t the focal point here, but I’ve found it to be of great comfort these days. Sometimes you need someone to point out life’s absurdities so you can maintain a little distance. As lyrically dense as these songs are, the net effect — for me at least — is like taking a breath of fresh air, or like hitting a reset button.

Father John Misty — “Things It Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution” [Spotify/iTunes]

Fleet Foxes — Crack-Up

Speaking of dense… I’m not sure I’ve really cracked the surface of Crack-Up. Listening to the episode of Song Exploder about “Mearcstapa” was startling, in that I didn’t realize how much about the album’s sound was flying under my radar. That said, it’s absolutely gorgeous, and I’m wildly curious as to what this album will mean to me in five or 10 years.

Fleet Foxes — “Mearcstapa” [Spotify/iTunes]

Godspeed You! Black Emperor — Luciferian Towers

Part of an unholy trinity of excellent albums I’ve been playing loudly when I’m working from home in an empty house. Lots of tension and anger here, but so much light as well. The climaxes of these tunes can feel joyous — the melody at the end of “Undoing a Luciferian Towers” sounds like it could have been lifted from a Christmas carol written a hundred years ago.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor — “Undoing A Luciferian Towers” [Spotify/iTunes]

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard — Murder of the Universe

Another member of the unholy trinity. It occurred to me recently that King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard could be the Russell Westbrook of the musical world. Both band and baller set ridiculously ambitious goals for themselves (five albums in a calendar year for KG&tLZ, a season-long triple-double for RW) and it looks like both will be successful. Just amazing. Of the albums they put out in 2017, Murder of the Universe was my favorite by far. It’s pure fun — fast paced and delightfully creepy. On vomit splatter colored vinyl, no less.

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard — “Altered Beast I” [Spotify/iTunes]

Pokey LaFarge — Manic Revelations

Pokey’s sound has grown bigger and bolder, as has the St. Louisan’s writing voice. “Riot In The Streets” speaks to the Ferguson, Missouri protests, concluding:

Our past won’t go away
It haunts us to present day
There’s so much left to learn
As the bullets fly and the buildings burn

Pokey LaFarge — “Riot In The Streets” [Spotify/iTunes]

Kendrick Lamar — DAMN.

I decided not to rank this year’s list, but this probably would have been #1. Lamar is this generation’s lyricist of record, in my opinion. To Pimp a Butterfly may have been more musically immersive, but DAMN. is just as vital to understanding our country and its culture.

Kendrick Lamar — “LUST.” [Spotify/iTunes]

Landlady — The World Is a Loud Place

A few words from my February post about the album:

I had a chance to see and hear a few of these new tunes when the band came to Hardywood in August [2016] — “Driving In California” for sure, and I think “Nina” and “Electric Abdomen” made appearances as well. It’s a fantastic album, every bit as imaginative, tightly executed, and soul replenishing as Upright Behavior. In fact, Landlady has become one of the bands –maybe you have a similar list — whose shows are more like exercises in spiritual fulfillment than just a pairing of people playing music and people watching those people play music.

Landlady — “Nina” [Spotify/iTunes]

Aimee Mann — Mental Illness

A very, very good album that was there for me in a difficult time. Here’s what I said in an April post after typing out the lyrics to the chorus:

What a thing to have sung to you while standing in the backyard of your new home on a windy night, watching clouds zoom past the moon. That place she’s describing — the pocket of time before life grabs hold of the course you’ve plotted and adds twists and turns to it — that’s exactly where my family is right now.

Aimee Mann — “Patient Zero” [Spotify/iTunes]

Mdou Moctar — Sousoume Tamachek

From the post I wrote after seeing Moctar perform in October as part of a screening of his Purple Rain remake, Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai:

I also walked away with a vinyl copy of Moctar’s newest LP, Sousoume Tamachek, signed by the three-man band I’d just seen in-person and onscreen. I’ve been spinning it nonstop — it paints a really varied and intimate picture of Moctar’s approach, with a nice mix of acoustic and electric guitar.

I’ve been seeing Sousoume Tamachek in other year-end lists, which makes me happy. Especially after hearing during the screening’s Q&A how tenuous the initial connection between Moctar and Sahel Sounds owner Christopher Kirkley was. A couple of missed phone calls and this album might not have been in my life.

Mdou Moctar — “Sousoume Tamachek” [Bandcamp/Spotify]

Mount Eerie — A Crow Looked at Me

I listened all the way through once, cried at my desk at work, and decided I needed some time before I listened again. I haven’t gone back yet, though I did almost buy a used copy at Reckless Records in Chicago while we were there on a family trip in November. It’s such a powerful album, and I could imagine it being there for me when I need it, but I never want to need it, and just thinking about needing it is terrifying. I have seen people talk about how listening to A Crow Looked at Me has actually been a life-affirming experience, and I get that, since it made me want to reach out to the people I love and let them know how much they mean to me. Still… it’s a little like looking directly into the Sun, emotionally speaking.

Mount Eerie — “Ravens” [Spotify/iTunes]

Mutoid Man — War Moans

This completes the unholy trinity! Come for the masterful riffing, stay for the lyrics about impregnating Satan’s daughter!

Mutoid Man — “Kiss Of Death” [Spotify/iTunes]

The National — Sleep Well Beast

This is the first National album that has grabbed me. Two contributing factors: 1. Reading this Amanda Petrusich piece about it, and 2. Listening for the first time when I was very sad for reasons I’m not sure I want to share here. What I will say is that I found exactly the right kind of musical sadness to soundtrack a moment of real life sadness, and that sense of harmony helped me find peace where I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

Sleep Well Beast — “The Day I Die” [Spotify/iTunes]

Orchestra Baobab — Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng

One of my favorite assignments this year was writing about an earlier Orchestra Baobab album for Off Your Radar. I hadn’t spent a ton of time considering why that album — Specialist in All Styles — had wormed its way so deeply into my consciousness, and I came out the other side loving it even more. I’m enjoying this one a great deal, as well. Here’s what I said about it in that Off Your Radar piece:

[Original band member Ndiouga Dieng’s] death prompted the band to reunite and release a new album this year called Tribute To Ndiouga Dieng, which I can’t recommend highly enough. Gone is Barthelemy Attisso’s virtuosic guitar — he’s back in Togo tending to his day job as a lawyer — and in its place you’ll find oodles of kora noodling. While I initially missed that brilliant, nimble guitar work, I’ve come to appreciate deeply how different this new release is. Another masterful move from a band whose musical chessboard spans the globe.

Orchestra Baobab — “Mariama” [Spotify/iTunes]

Rostam — Half Light

I feel like this was one of the year’s most misunderstood albums. While it was reviewed reasonably well, I feel like the reviews I saw missed something crucial about how bold the album is in making his voice the center of attention and using it as a muse for experimentation. This was his big moment to step into the spotlight, and he did so in a way that strikes me as exceptionally brave. It reminds me of a one-word answer he gave in an interview earlier this year when asked what he hopes people will remember him for:

Fearlessness.

Rostam — “Gwan” [Spotify/iTunes]

Skyway Man — Seen Comin’ from a Mighty Eye

From my May post about the album:

Seen Comin’ from a Mighty Eye is tailor-made for someone embroiled in exactly [my] obsessions, with the spacey aspects of Cosmic American Music, the voluminousness and spirituality of gospel, Tyler’s exploratory spirit, and references to early 1980’s production that remove songs from the present moment, like they’re wandering untethered by time. It’s all here, along with the signature Spacebomb sounds that consistently fill my heart with joy.

Skyway Man — “Wires (Donny Angel and the Opening Wide)” [Spotify/iTunes]

Devon Sproule — The Gold String

Another artist I nominated for Off Your Radar consideration. Here’s what I said about The Gold String in May:

I learned just this week that Sproule put out a new album earlier this year called The Gold String, and it’s lovely in all the ways I Love You, Go Easy is, especially when it comes to the way the lyrics flow. In fact, she touches on a similar idea in the title track when she imagines an endless strand that connects everyone and everything. Her description of it is nothing short of elegant, in large part because form and theme are one; she describes this inspiring connectedness using verses that lead into one another and this amazing rolling rhyme scheme that weaves together phrases in ear-pleasing clusters. Her words become the string she’s singing about. It’s really incredible.

Devon Sproule — “The Gold String” [Spotify/iTunes]

St. Vincent — MASSEDUCTION

So my daughter, who is three and half and loves the color pink, keeps choosing this when I tell her to go pick a record from the shelf that has 2017 albums on it. Let’s just say the cover art is quite the conversation starter. Also, “New York” is one of the best songs of the year. Hands down.

St. Vincent — “New York” [Spotify/iTunes]

Moses Sumney — Aromanticism

The only album I could envision ranking above DAMN. It’s a towering achievement, both in terms of vocal performance and emotional articulation. While I didn’t manage to win a Vinyl Me, Please pressing at the Triple Crossing listening party in October, I managed to find a used VMP copy on the trip to Reckless Records I mentioned earlier. I know I put way too much stock in getting this or that pressing and having a physical copy of something that I can listen to online, but I love that Vinyl Me, Please did a pressing. It gave me an opportunity to sit around a table with new and old Sumney fans talking about all the ways in which Aromanticism is incredible.

Moses Sumney — “Lonely World” [Spotify/iTunes]

Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau — Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau

From a Friday News and Notes post earlier this year:

Quick story — when Bob Dylan’s Tempest album was announced and I saw “Scarlet Town” on the track list, I desperately hoped it would be a cover of the Gillian Welch song from The Harrow & The Harvest. It wasn’t. So when I saw that a “Scarlet Town” was on this Thile/Mehldau album, I braced for disappointment…

No disappointment here. Just an hour and three minutes of next-level interpretation and collaboration. And, yes, it’s the “Scarlet Town” I was hoping for.

Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau — “Scarlet Town” [Spotify/iTunes]

Tinariwen — Elwan

This is the year I truly fell in love with Tuareg desert blues. So glad BK Music had a copy of this. I was wearing out Sousoume Tamachek.

Tinariwen — “Sastanàqqàm” [Spotify/iTunes]

The xx — I See You

I liked the first two xx albums, loved Jamie xx’s solo album, and found this to be a great middle ground. It’s funny this comes last alphabetically, because it was the first top-tier album released this year, and it makes me think about how fucking long 2017 has felt. Good lord. Hey 2018, maybe don’t be like that?

The xx — “Say Something Loving” [Spotify/iTunes]

More 2017 in Review:

2017 in Review: Live Albums
2017 in Review: Blasts from the Past
2017 in Review: Americana
2017 in Review: RVA

5 Comments

Filed under #features

2017 in Review: RVA

2017 was fucked up in a truly barf-inducing cornucopia of ways, but I can point to one way in which it was unreasonably generous — how many of this city’s talented and creative musicians I had the opportunity to meet and interview. It’s an honor to experience so directly the warmth and kindness of this city’s creators. These conversations mean the world to me, and each one makes me want to redouble my efforts and get the word out about the amazing things this city’s musicians are capable of.

Speaking of what #rvamusic is capable of, here’s my list of favorite Richmond albums, with quotes from the folks I chatted with. To those people and everyone else on this list: Thank you for giving me the gift of inspiration throughout a truly messed up year.

Afro-Zen Allstars — Greatest Hits

From my River City Magazine interview with Afro-Zen bandleader George M. Lowe:

“I do this stuff to increase the amount of joy in the world. Nothing brings people together quite like music does, and being exposed to the musical culture of some other place can result in understanding more and grasping the fact that people are much more alike than they are different.”

Afro-Zen All Stars — “Cha Cha” [Bandcamp]

Saw Black — Azalea Days

So you know how Spotify spits out stats at the end of the year? My top songs were all from Moana or the Trolls movie, because I’m no longer the boss of my own car stereo. Also the Monster Mash. Halloween never really ended, as far as my daughter is concerned. The first real song on my Spotify list was “Rosie’s Comin Home.” A true crossover hit — dad and daughter singing along in the car to something not voiced by an animated character. Thank you, Saw Black. There are only so many times you can listen to the Monster Mash before you start unraveling. Yes, that was a mummy pun. I really need a break from the Monster Mash. By the way, what other song requires “the” before its title and therefore looks prohibitively strange inside quotation marks? I’ve gone back and forth about how to punctuate this paragraph for longer than I’d like to admit.

Saw Black — “Rosie’s Comin Home” [Spotify/iTunes]

Butcher Brown — Live at Vagabond

RVA Magazine was kind enough to let me review this one. Here’s a snippet:

Live at Vagabond captures both the energy of the crowd and the virtuosity of individual instrumentalists with remarkable clarity, giving listeners a taste of Devonne Harris’ compositional gifts, his adventurous approach to keys, and the ensemble’s knack for seizing the moment.

Butcher Brown — “Tunnelvision” [Spotify/iTunes]

Camp Howard — Juice

The title track is a true jam. I heard the band say they approached the instrumental work on “Juice” like they might have if they were using sampled sounds. It’s a neat thought experiment, and it resulted in a really great tune.

Camp Howard — “Juice” [Spotify/iTunes]

Dazeases — Local Slut

From my RVA Magazine interview with Dazeases:

Nevertheless, her performance style is self-made and singular. She prefers low lighting; just the night before, at a show in Charlottesville, she improvised her own ambiance using lamps she found at the venue. “Any photos — if you see a lamp on a chair, that was me.” And she described an approach to organizing set lists that involves front-loading upbeat material. “It’s really cool to watch that tone change or make that tone change happen,” she said. “I usually do an emotional slope in my sets, so it’ll start out as positive as I get for my music — it’s not really positive or happy by nature — and then just drag it down. Down, down, down. Like, unrelenting.”

Dazeases — “Laurel” [Spotify/YouTube]

DJ Harrison — Hazymoods

RVA Magazine let me review this one as well. It truly is an honor to document Devonne Harris’ brilliance as it unfolds. Here’s a section of that review:

Newcomers to the respected RVA collaborator’s solo work will get a sense for his keen ear — how he can blend disparate sounds, often from his own storied output as a producer and multi-instrumentalist, and make a cohesive musical moment.

DJ Harrison — “ProcessFresh” [Spotify/Bandcamp]

Thorp Jenson — Odessa

Another one RVA Magazine let me blurb:

It plays like an expertly crafted survey of styles from the last 60 years, from Stones riffs and heartland rock to country waltzing and soul not unlike Matthew E. White’s. Well-worn and world-class, right out of the gate.

Thorp Jenson — “Odessa” [Spotify/iTunes]

Sid Kingsley — Good Way Home

I was also fortunate enough to interview Sid Kingsley this year. What a brilliant, friendly, and humble person. If I were to assign a Revelation of the Year, it would be Kingsley’s voice. Arresting in the best way imaginable.

People assume that I’m influenced, and I’m trying to emulate some of these [singers]. Singing is totally a newer thing for me. It’s even newer than the piano, because I was definitely just playing piano and not singing at all. Super-bashful about it. I haven’t tried to emulate anyone vocally. Saxophone – I used to try to emulate Charlie Parker, Joshua Redman. But with my voice, I just sing. This is what I sound like.

Sid Kingsley — “Sam Stone” [Spotify/iTunes]

Minor Poet — And How!

I’ve written a bunch about And How!, and Andrew Carter was kind enough to call an article I wrote the definitive retelling of how the album took shape. Here’s a link — hopefully it gives you a sense of Carter’s love for the recording process. It was a truly inspiring conversation.

That curiosity led to years of experimenting with the recording process, and if there’s one thing And How! makes perfectly clear, it’s that Andrew Carter loves to record. You can hear it in the album’s opening moments — his knack for molding off-kilter sounds by manipulating sub-par equipment. “[In] that first song, ‘Plot Devices,’ there’s that weird, lo-fi stringy sound. It’s this little toy Casio run through a shit-ton of weird effects. That was part of the fun of making it. ‘What cool sound can I make that doesn’t exist?’”

Minor Poet — “River Days” [Spotify/Bandcamp]

Opin — Opin

I find myself coming back to this record time and again, finding new reasons to love it. There’s one constant, though, and that’s “Lift Canal,” which is at or near the top of the Best Songs of 2017 list I’m too overwhelmed to make. Speaking of overwhelm, “Lift Canal” has been there for me in some tough moments this year. Very thankful it exists.

Opin — “Get Home” [Spotify/iTunes]

Positive No — Partners in the Wild

The first tape I bought after being gifted a cassette player for Christmas. So begins a new era of jamming out in the car. Exceedingly psyched about this development.

Positive No — “Y.A.A.Y.Y.” [Spotify/iTunes]

Skinny-E — Brown Paper Bag

From the post I wrote after seeing Evan McKeel perform at In Your Ear studios late last year:

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?

Skinny-E — “Love Again” [Spotify/iTunes]

Eric Slick — Palisades

What a joy it was to speak with Eric Slick over the phone for this River City Magazine article and then shake his hand at the Richmond Symphony’s RVA Live! night. Two quick tangents: Did you know he hosts a truly awesome podcast called the Strange America Radio Half Hour? Or that his other band Lithuania (remember, he’s also the drummer for Dr. Dog) just released an album? Dude never stops. A few words about Palisades:

“These songs were birthed out of learning how to meditate. I started meditating and my creative life began, outside of drumming. So, it’s all still really new to me, and I’m still navigating how to be at the front of a stage, and how to be a performer. I feel like I’m juggling when I’m up there, but it’s really challenging and exciting and it’s a necessary part of my creative process. When I do go back to the drums now, I have this whole other perspective on how to play drums.”

Eric Slick — “You Are Not Your Mind” [Spotify/Bandcamp]

J. Roddy Walston & The Business — Destroyers of the Soft Life

Being the first to snag a copy of Destroyers of the Soft Life at Plan 9 was exceedingly rewarding, as evidenced by the test pressing pictured above. Digging into the liner notes in my companion copy was rewarding as well, as finding out that Michael York of Sleepwalkers played on “The Wanting” turned a song I already loved into a multifaceted celebration.

J. Roddy Walston & The Business — “The Wanting” [Spotify/iTunes]

Matthew E. White & Flo Morrissey — Gentlewoman, Ruby Man

White and Morrissey played four cities in support of Gentlewoman, Ruby Man: Paris, London, New York, and Richmond, Virginia. Their show at the Broadberry kicked off the tour, and I feel very lucky to have been there to see it. An all-star Spacebomb backing band, including Devonne Harris. A set of stunningly rendered cover tunes. I was especially thrilled to hear their take on Leonard Cohen’s legendary “Suzanne.”

Matthew E. White & Flo Morrissey — “Suzanne” (Leonard Cohen cover) [Spotify/iTunes]

More 2017 in Review:

2017 in Review: Live Albums
2017 in Review: Blasts from the Past
2017 in Review: Americana
2017 in Review: 25 Favorites

4 Comments

Filed under #features

2017 in Review: Americana

My first time splitting Americana out into its own category. It’s an admittedly nebulous distinction that’s useful in this case because it means I can list a bunch more albums that meant something to me this year. Here they are:

Bright Eyes — Salutations

Combine a wildly positive Friday Cheers experience this summer with the fact that the Felice Brothers provide a different backdrop than I’m used to hearing in Bright Eyes tunes, and you have an album that feels distinctly 2017 to me. The Felice Brothers even served as his backing band at that Cheers show. Just excellent. And yes, I did grab an official Conor Oberst harmonica at the merch table. The inscription: “Sorry for everything.”

Bright Eyes — “A Little Uncanny” [Spotify/iTunes]

Elkhorn — The Black River

A late-breaking addition. Grabbed this at Steady Sounds with Christmas money. Didn’t know it included a Coltrane number until I had a copy in my hands and could peep the back cover.

Elkhorn — “Spiritual” (John Coltrane cover) [Spotify/iTunes]

Dori Freeman — Letters Never Read

Wrote about this album on Thanksgiving. It was the kind of peaceful moment you wish for and rarely experience:

Was just in a crowded kitchen, mashing potatoes, listening to Dori Freeman’s new album, and thinking about how great a Thanksgiving soundtrack it makes… Her arrangement of “Ern & Zorry’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog” is as simple as it gets — just her voice — like an old recipe rendered with care. It made for a moment of calm contentment amid a chaos for which I’m very fortunate.

Dori Freeman — “Ern & Zorry’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog” [Spotify/iTunes]

Jake Xerxes Fussell — What in the Natural World

Year-end list are silly, but they can produce meaningful moments of agreement. Seeing this on Amanda Petrusich’s top-10 made me jump up and down on the inside. And if I’d gotten my shit together in time to do a top songs post, I would have put “Furniture Man” in it.

Jake Xerxes Fussell — “Furniture Man” [Spotify/iTunes]

Hiss Golden Messenger — Hallelujah Anyhow

If you’ve been to a Hiss show, you know leave about 157% more hopeful than when you walked into the venue. This album comes as close to instilling that feeling from afar as anything he’s recorded.

Hiss Golden Messenger — “When The Wall Comes Down” [Spotify/iTunes]

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — The Nashville Sound

“If We Were Vampires,” y’all. Kinda feels like that’s all you need to say, right?

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — “If We Were Vampires” [Spotify/iTunes]

The Kernal — LIGHT COUNTRY

From the cover art to the name “Kernal” to the fact that Taco Bell figures so prominently in the lyrics to my favorite song on the album… I have no idea what’s going on here. And I don’t want to know. I just want to spin this album and be happy. Light Country is about as quick a route from wherever I am to my musically induced happy place as I’ve found.

The Kernal — “At The Old Taco Bell” [Spotify/iTunes]

John Moreland — Big Bad Luv

Deep emotional intelligence. Earnest introspection. A testament to how profoundly sad music, when made honestly, can be a force for healing. Looking forward to his show at The Camel on January 14. Saw Black opening. Should be outstanding.

John Moreland — “Sallisaw Blue” [Spotify/iTunes]

David Rawlings — Poor David’s Almanack

I’m posting “Money Is The Meat In The Coconut” below because my daughter and I sang it together a few times and thinking about that makes me smile, but listen to the lyrics to “Yup.” Knocked me back when I saw it live at the National earlier in December.

David Rawlings — “Money Is The Meat In The Coconut” [Spotify/iTunes]

Willie Watson — Folksinger, Vol. 2

Got way into this after seeing Watson sing “Samson And Delilah” at that David Rawlings show in November. He also sang “Keep It Clean,” which is the last track on Vol. 1. I love that Rawlings passes the mic around like that.

Willie Watson — “Samson And Delilah” [Spotify/iTunes]

More 2017 in Review:

2017 in Review: Live Albums
2017 in Review: Blasts from the Past
2017 in Review: RVA
2017 in Review: 25 Favorites

5 Comments

Filed under #features

2017 in Review: Blasts from the Past

Here are the reissues I spent the most time getting reacquainted with in 2017:

Beyoncé — Lemonade

This counts as a reissue, right? Maybe? I don’t subscribe to Tidal, and I really wanted to avoid double-buying Lemonade like I did Beyoncé’s self-titled masterpiece (iTunes then vinyl). So I waited. And waited. And OK so maybe someone sent me a download link at one point, but still — it was cause for much rejoicing when a (yellow, obvs) vinyl version was issued this summer. Gives me a second chance to recognize Beyoncé’s second consecutive masterpiece.

Beyoncé — “Hold Up” [iTunes]

Jerry Garcia & Howard Wales — Side Trips, Volume One

Posted about this last month:

It’s a pretty snazzy album. Howard Wales wails (GET IT?!?) on Hammond organ and Fender Rhodes, and you get to hear how Jerry Garcia acts and reacts in a jazz setting. Parts can feel less like jazz and more like the middle of a Dead jam, but whatever. The vibe is fun and intuitive and exploratory, and it makes for great unfocused listening. Zone in. Zone out. Your call. It’s also perfect dinner music, assuming your guests are cool with meandering, guitar-driven jam-jazz. OK so maybe it’s better this is being reissued after Thanksgiving.

Jerry Garcia & Howard Wales — “Space Funk” [Discogs]

Radiohead — OKNOTOK 1997 2017

I had a perfectly good copy of OK Computer. I told myself I didn’t need the 20th anniversary reissue. Then I heard “Man Of War.”

Radiohead — “Man Of War” [Spotify/iTunes]

Sister Rosetta Tharpe — Live in 1960

Another pressing of this gem is coming in January, but a 500-copy limited white vinyl run hit independent record stores in December, and I’m so glad I was in the right place at the right time to snag one. It’s a solo show — just Sister Rosetta and guitar — and her guitar isn’t mixed all that loud, so what the recording really amounts to is an extended sermon given by one of rock and roll’s under-appreciated progenitors. I don’t put much stock in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but it was nice to see she was chosen for induction this year. Credit where credit is due.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe — “Gospel Train” (live) [Spotify/iTunes]

Lal & Mike Waterson — Bright Phoebus 

I thought it was M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger who evangelized for this on Instagram and put it on my radar, but now I can’t find the post. In the process of trying, though, I found this video of Taylor performing the title track with William Tyler. Pretty awesome if you ask me. Side note: “Bright Phoebus” handily wins the title for the song that got stuck in my head the most this year. Oh, and my daughter digs it too, which is fun.

Lal & Mike Waterson — “Bright Phoebus” [Spotify/iTunes]

Gillian Welch — The Harrow & the Harvest

One of my favorite musical moments of 2017 was finding out one my favorite albums of all time was being pressed to vinyl for the very first time. (“For the very first tiiiiime…” Sorry, I still have “Bright Phoebus” playing.)

Gillian Welch — “Hard Times” [Spotify/iTunes]

Neil Young — Harvest Moon

I became semi-obsessed with “Unknown Legend” via the cover version on Shovels & Rope’s Busted Jukebox, Volume 1. (Volume 2 out now!) So when I saw Harvest Moon was being pressed to vinyl for the first time for Record Store Day Black Friday, I was all like “Oh cool, the album with ‘Unknown Legend’ on it!” I waited in line for more than two hours in sub-freezing temperatures with no socks on (dumb), snagged a copy, brought it home, and then got surprise-excited when I heard one of my other favorite Neil Young songs… “Harvest Moon.” That’s right — in all that time waiting for BK Music to open while my ankles froze, I never managed to connect “Harvest Moon” the song with Harvest Moon the album. Like I said… dumb. Great album, though. Played it nonstop that weekend and a number of times since.

Neil Young — “Unknown Legend” [Spotify/iTunes]

More 2017 in Review

2017 in Review: Live Albums
2017 in Review: Americana
2017 in Review: RVA
2017 in Review: 25 Favorites

4 Comments

Filed under #features

2017 in Review: Live Albums

Let’s get this retrospective party started! Five posts to come, hopefully over the next five days.

A few notes:

  • No rankings this year. I do reference what might have been ranked the album of the year, however.
  • Everything is listed alphabetically. I think. I hope.
  • There are five categories: Live Albums, Blasts from the Past, Americana, RVA, and 25 Favorites. I usually do an EPs category, but everything I was planning on listing seemed to fit better elsewhere this year.
  • Aside from the last category, I didn’t shoot for a certain number in each. The main priority was writing about as many albums as possible — around 60 total.
  • Each album appears in just one category. And if something could reasonably be placed in the RVA category, it was. So Butcher Brown’s excellent Live at Vagabond album isn’t listed here, even though it was one of my favorite live albums of the year.

Without further ado, here are the other live albums I enjoyed in 2017:

Animal Collective — Meeting of the Waters

My biggest regret from this year’s Record Store Day. I saw it with my own two eyes. I could have picked it up, taken it home, and there wouldn’t be this empty feeling in my soul. Oh wait, that’s because of the current political climate. Still, though… I thought this wouldn’t be my cup of tea because Panda Bear isn’t involved, but it’s great. Loose yet intense. Wild yet measured. Seeing it described somewhere as a return to the style employed on the group’s earlier recordings helped. By the way, 2017 turned out to be the year I got an OG copy of Sung Tongs. Good stuff.

Animal Collective — “Blue Noises” [Spotify/iTunes]

Drive-By Truckers — Live In Studio · New York, NY · 07/12/16

I did snag this one on Record Store Day. I’m likely not alone in saying that many of my most meaningful DBT experiences have taken place in the live setting, and it’s great to hear tracks from American Band come to life like this. Especially “Ramon Casiano,” which showcases the great combination of depth and specificity that makes Mike Cooley’s songwriting so interesting.

Drive-By Truckers — “Ramon Casiano” [Discogs]

Steve Gunn — Dusted

Tour-only live album. No digital version, as far as I can tell, so no sample track to share. Just grab it if you see it. Gunn and frequent collaborator James Elkington at their best.

Jason Isbell — Live from Welcome to 1979

This is what I was obsessing over while I was overlooking that Animal Collective jam, in large part because of the cover of “Atlantic City.”

What can I say about “Atlantic City”? It’s on a very short list of “All Time” favorites on Spotify and I wrote a mini-essay on the song after spending time in the city for the first time, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Isbell perform it. I’m sitting here trying to think of a combination of artist and cover that would make we wake up earlier in the morning… Thom Yorke singing “Hallelujah”? Donald Trump singing “2 + 2 = 5”?

Jason Isbell — “Atlantic City” (Bruce Springsteen cover) [Discogs]

Old Crow Medicine Show — 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde

Say what you want about “Wagon Wheel,” ban it from being played by cover bands in your bar, whatever. I’ll always love the song, and I think it’s genuinely inspiring how it founded a mutual admiration society between Dylan and the Old Crow folks. The respect the band has for the man really shines through on 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde.

Old Crow Medicine Show — “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” (Bob Dylan cover) [Spotify/iTunes]

Sufjan Stevens — Carrie & Lowell Live

I do a spectacularly shitty job of keeping track of the shows I see. In the alternate universe where I manage to put together a “Top Shows I Saw this Year” list, Sufjan’s set at the Altria in May of 2015 — less than two months after Carrie & Lowell came out — would likely have topped that year’s list. This was recorded later in 2015, in November, but if I close my eyes and let it take me away, I can picture myself in the intense atmosphere of that Altria show, especially during the extended “We’re all gonna die” coda to “Fourth Of July.”

Sufjan Stevens — “Fourth Of July” (live) [Spotify/iTunes]

More 2017 in Review

2017 in Review: Blasts from the Past
2017 in Review: Americana
2017 in Review: RVA
2017 in Review: 25 Favorites

 

4 Comments

Filed under #features

CD Monday: RSD Black Friday Edition

The return of CD Monday! Well, not really. This is a more of one-off, given that my daughter is still threatening to melt down if she doesn’t get to determine the playlist during rides to and from work/daycare. (Potential DJ name: DJ Emotional Blackmail.) But I can listen to whatever I want while running lunch errands (!), and this week I’m getting reacquainted with Side Trips: Volume One, which is being issued for the first time on vinyl as part of this year’s Record Store Day: Black Friday event.

It’s a pretty snazzy album. Howard Wales wails (GET IT?!?) on Hammond organ and Fender Rhodes, and you get to hear how Jerry Garcia acts and reacts in a jazz setting. Parts can feel less like jazz and more like the middle of a Dead jam, but whatever. The vibe is fun and intuitive and exploratory, and it makes for great unfocused listening. Zone in. Zone out. Your call. It’s also perfect dinner music, assuming your guests are cool with meandering, guitar-driven jam-jazz. OK so maybe it’s better this is being reissued after Thanksgiving.

See y’all in line at BK Music on Friday!

Jerry Garcia & Howard Wales — “Space Funk” [YouTube]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejiG81DipCc

1 Comment

Filed under #features