Category Archives: #nowplaying

Aimee Mann

Aimee Mann

So this new Aimee Mann album is excellent.

I gave it a headphones-in listen last night while grilling and damn near had an out-of-body experience when I got to the chorus of “Patient Zero,” which reads:

Life is good
You look around and think I’m in the right neighborhood
But honey you just moved in
Life is grand
And wouldn’t you like to have it go as planned

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.

And that ominous subtext… I feel that, too. This may sound strange, but it reminds me of carbon dating and how each of us carries around tiny amounts (hopefully) of radioactivity in the form of radiocarbon. You stop exchanging it with the environment when you die, and the degree of decay is what tells scientists when you lived, but part of being alive is having this weird, low-level hum going on inside you at all times. I feel like the chorus of “Patient Zero” hums that way, only instead of radioactivity, it’s putting off the trace amount of doubt that even an optimist can’t escape. Being subject to fate can be frustrating, especially when it comes to mortgages, but it’s the cost of still being alive.

Did I mention the video stars Josh Lyman?

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

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Feist

One more dispatch from the moving/unpacking process:

I mentioned in my Tommy James post that it was fun filing away records I hadn’t seen in a while. This is one I’m not sure I’d even heard yet, so I gave it a spin. Feist covering Mastodon. Mastodon covering Feist. A tidy and memorable portmanteau serving as the title.

As you might have guessed, given the quirky pairing, this was a Record Store Day release. 2012, to be exact, which seems like ages ago, until you consider that Feist’s most recent LP, Metals, came out a year before that. Even crazier is the fact that The Reminder came out four years before Metals, which puts us all the way back in 2007. The irony here is that she’s a near-daily part of my life, thanks to my daughter, whose love of “1234” hasn’t wavered since I posted about it last August. It’s astonishing how well The Reminder holds up. I don’t know what I would have said if you’d told me in 2007 that, ten years later, I’d still be listening to this album regularly and that Donald Trump would be president. I probably would have just stared at you blankly.

Speaking of Donald Trump, here are a few lyrics from “Black Tongue,” the Mastodon song Feist covers on this 7-inch:

You own the darkness
Have taken my sight
You buried the stars underground
You’ve stolen the night

You can run to the sea
You can run to the forest
You can hide
But you’ll never escape

Really the whole thing can be read as a clairvoyant rendering of Trump’s media omnipresence and anti-Democratic tendencies. Except for the line later on in the song about running out of lies. He seems to draw from a bottomless well there.

What we were talking about? Oh yeah — unpacking records is fun! (And yay for new Feist at the end of April!)

Feist — “Black Tongue” (Mastodon cover) [YouTube]

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Record Store Day

So this may end up being the earliest I’ve woken up to wait in line at BK Music on Record Store Day. The sun will not be out. The birds will not be chirping. The Mennonites won’t even be making donuts at the South of the James Farmer’s Market. I’m talking oh dark thirty. (The time, not the movie in which Andy from The Office kills Osama bin Laden.)

Why so early? Mostly because of this:

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit — Welcome to 1979

Let me count the reasons:

  1. I’m not sure which I heard first, the studio version on Here We Rest or the live version on Live from Alabama, but Isbell’s take on “Heart On A String” put Candi Staton on my radar, and it represents a crucial part of his own personal history, given that Staton’s original version was recorded at Fame in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The phrase “full circle” comes to mind when I hear Isbell perform “Heart On A String.” It makes clear that he both remembers and understands where he came from.
  2. I haven’t gotten to see Isbell do The Stones’ “Sway” live, but setlist.fm tells me that the cover closed his 2008 set on Brown’s Island here in Richmond, which is neat. I have seen him do “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” however, and he does a great job. It’s one of those “Man, that dude knows how to get just the right guitar tone” songs.
  3. John Prine, y’all. No need to for elaboration there.
  4. 400 Unit renditions of Isbell-penned Truckers songs make the world go ’round, and “Never Gonna Change” was the song with which he ended his outstanding 2016 Altria Theater performance. Man, was that show good. I said on Instragram at the time that he “pitched a perfect game,” and the experience has only gotten rosier in retrospect.
  5. 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”?

There must be something in the water, because four of the other titles I’m most hoping to see at BK are also live sets:

Would also be neat to snag the Lumineers’ Song Seeds 10-inch. As someone who’s contributed parts to music written by Wes, I like the concept of the album — hearing songs at different stages of fruition. It’s the same reason I was so psyched to hear the episode of Song Exploder that featured “Ophelia.”

I better stop there before I get carried away. See y’all in line on April 22nd.

 

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Tommy James and the Shondells

Tommy James

YHT HQ has changed locations, which is an unnecessarily opaque way of saying my family just moved houses. It’s been a bananas couple of months, with lots of emotional ups and downs, but we’re now in the process of unpacking, which I’m enjoying more than I thought I would. Unpacking records has been especially fun. Finding where everything is going to go. Seeing albums I haven’t laid hands or eyes on in ages.

Less fun was the fatal 45 avalanche in which a stack of carelessly placed (by me) discs fell from the top of my record storage onto my head and shoulders — the body parts, not the shampoo — and down to the floor. Most were fine, but Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crimson And Clover” didn’t make it out alive. I’d post a picture but I feel guilty enough already. To exorcise that guilt, I thought I’d memorialize the song here.

Crimson And Clover” was one of two #1 U.S. hits for Tommy James and the Shondells, the other being “Hanky Panky.” They also recorded versions of “Mony Mony” and “I Think We’re Alone Now,” songs that are so ubiquitous (like “Hanky Panky”) that I feel silly for not knowing that this one group made them all famous. “Crimson And Clover” isn’t quite as ever-present these days, but the chord progression voiced by the guitar feels super familiar, like someone’s since used it in another song, though I can’t think of what song that would be. (Just kidding — Wikipedia helped me find it: Dum Dum Girls’ “Lord Knows.”)

Fun facts: “Crimson And Clover” was one of the first songs to be recorded on 16-track recording equipment, Prince recorded a version that contains elements of “Wild Thing,” and Broken Bells has also covered it, which seems like a funny coincidence, since a broken 45 is how we got here in the first place.

As a side note, “Mony Mony” makes me think of being at a baseball game, I think because they often play it at baseball games. Though I’m not sure if I’m more used to hearing the Tommy James version or Billy Idol’s. Might need to go to a few Richmond Flying Squirrels games. You know, for research

Goodbye, “Crimson And Clover.” You were a good 45.

Tommy James and the Shondells — “Crimson And Clover” [Spotify/iTunes]

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The Shins

I resolved to avoid getting sucked into Heartworms. I know this is selfish, but here’s my logic: I probably can’t make it to their show at The National on May 17, so if I just kept my hands over my ears like the Hear No Evil monkey I wouldn’t feel sad about missing a show I would have otherwise been interested in. There’s just one problem…

Heartworms is really good.

There’s the bright, tightly buttoned up Shins stuff that I’m used to (“Dead Alive”), there’s a wonderful herky-jerky tune that reminds me of Pretty & Nice in the best way (“Rubber Ballz”), there’s the fantastic slow burner of a closing track (“The Fear“), and then there’s “Mildenhall,” which I love. I’m probably not alone in immediately thinking of James Mercer’s high register after hearing or reading the words “The Shins,” but “Mildenhall” dips way lower in his vocal range, and it’s more plainly narrative than I’m used to hearing from him. As someone whose journey to songwriting also involved “messing with my dad’s guitar,” the song really hits home, and I’m a sucker for the sub-genre of “How I fell in love with music” music.

Anyone know if a one-week-old child needs his own ticket at The National?

The Shins — “Mildenhall” [Spotify/iTunes]

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EggHunt Records

Egghunt

Every once in a while, I look around and say to myself “Damn, EggHunt Records has a lot of awesome stuff going on…” Now is an excellent example, and I think it’s time for another installment of the feature I’m unofficially naming “Damn, EggHunt Records has a lot of awesome stuff going on…”

Here’s a link to the first EggHunt catch-up post if you’re curious, and here’s an all new one, featuring three exciting projects:

Opin

opin

It really sunk in while I was listening to “Flee” for the first time that Landis Wine’s voice is Richmond to me, in the same way that the Boulevard is, or the river, or Bev’s. And it’s comforting knowing that if I ever moved away, I could still put on a White Laces album and feel the sense of place that I feel now. I’m excited to see him start a new chapter with Tori Hovater as Opin, and “Flee” leaves a great first impression. I’m especially fond of the build that ushers in the last minute of the song. Really neat.

Opin — “Flee” [Soundcloud]

Dazeases

dazeases

Speaking of distinctive Richmond voices, Dazeases’ has to be the most exciting new voice coming out of this city’s music scene. I’ve been digging into her catalog on Bandcamp, and I can’t recommend doing so highly enough. Her approach to production, vocals, performance… everything is entirely her own, and “Plum” promises continued inventiveness and gravity on her upcoming album, Local Slut, which will be released via EggHunt’s snazzy Hatched subscription series.

Dazeases — “Plum” [Spotify/Soundcloud]

Eric Slick

eric-slick

I’m not the best with time signatures. Does “You Became The Light” shift from 6/4 in the verse to waltz time in the chorus? Or is it 12/8? Are those relatively arbitrary designations? I don’t know enough to answer any of those questions. I’m just going to say that whatever Eric Slick (drummer for Dr. Dog) is doing here, I really like it. A verse that keeps you on your toes and a chorus that soothes for a few short moments before hurling you back into the madness… sign me up.

Eric Slick — “You Became The Light” [Spotify/iTunes]

 

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Afro-Zen Allstars

afro-zen-all-stars

One of my favorite interview experiences  was talking to Richmond bassist Brian Cruse, whom I wrote about for River Ciy Magazine last year. The article was about a record he made with an ensemble he leads, but he’s also part of Afro-Zen All Stars, a group that derives inspiration from a “Golden Age” of jazzy Ethiopian music that was made in the 1960s and 70s.

If you haven’t heard their new Greatest Hits album yet, it’s well worth a listen. Check out the bass line Cruse lays down on the first track, “Cha Cha.” Steady as hell, funky as hell, groovy as hell. So easy to get lost in. The whole album has that quality.

I got the chance to see the band open for No BS! Brass Band’s 10-year anniversary show, but was near the back of the venue during their set. Can’t wait to see them again to get a closer look. And to get lost in some extremely groovy music.

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

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