Category Archives: #rva

Small Friend Records and Books

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I’d like to share a link to an article I wrote about a place I’m truly thankful for: Small Friend Records & Books. I had an opportunity to interview the shop’s owners a little while back, and it was such a pleasure learning about how they got started, how they envision their store’s role in the Shockoe Bottom community, and how they see that space evolving in the future. They have such clear and admirable passion — not just for music, books, and zines, but also for the ideas represented in and by the items they stock.

Here’s how I started the piece:

When you walk into a house and scan the walls and shelves for the first time, you learn a lot about the people who live there. In that sense, Small Friend Records & Books, which opened its doors on 17th Street in April, feels as much like a home as a place you’d go to buy albums or novels.

I’ve written about this before, but one reason I care so deeply about — and am so thankful for — the record stores here in Richmond is the way they represent the importance of a sense of place in our lives. Places connect us to other people. They keep us engaged with those people, even when we don’t agree with them. And places connect us to our past, helping us better understand our present and future. Without a sense of place, we are diminished.

Small Friend is a wonderful place, and I hope you’ll take a few minutes to check out the interview. More importantly, head downtown to check out Small Friend for yourself. I’ve been there a number of times, and of the albums I’ve snagged there, I think I’m most in love with my copy of the Wild Wild Country original score, which was composed by Brocker Way — brother of the pair of brothers who made the Netflix docuseries. (There are three brothers total. Well, three brothers involved in the series. I guess they could have other brothers… I’m gonna stop. You get the idea.)

In many ways, the show is itself a meditation on the idea of place — on what it takes to build an organic community, and how quickly a place can grow without losing its sense of self. Here’s a favorite track of mine from the score — the elegiac “Church and State.”

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Trey Pollard

Really neat shindig happening tonight at the Hofheimer Building in Scott’s Addition. Trey Pollard will be debuting pieces from Antiphone, his soon-to-be-released album of contemporary chamber music (out Friday — preorder here). They’ll be played by a string quartet in collaboration with Classical Revolution RVA, an organization that aims to present classical music in inventive ways “by taking it into local bars, restaurants, cafes, and galleries.” Did I mention Matthew E. White will be opening? This promises to be special, y’all. Hope to see you there.

If you’re interested in learning more about Antiphone, be sure to check out the interview I did with Pollard for the Auricular. He was incredibly candid and thoughtful throughout our conversation, and I think you get an especially keen sense for the dedication he brings to his work, whether he’s composing original pieces like the ones being performed tonight or arranging songs written by others. Here’s how Pollard put it when we spoke:

Matt and I talk about it a lot. The craft of what you do is important… It’s about how you go about it — caring about the details, caring about the parts that make up the bigger thing.

While Antiphone certainly represents a moment of cultivation, it’s also a window into how Pollard approaches music on a daily basis. In that sense, his story and Spacebomb’s are one and the same: When you do things the right way, it shows. And Antiphone is nothing short of an achievement. What a gift it’ll be to see these pieces in the live setting.

Get your ticket here, check out my interview with Pollard here, and listen below to a piece from the album entitled “8 Pairs: Fugue VI. Very Slowly.”

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Matthew E. White

This. All damn day.

Listen below to Matthew E. White’s “No Future In Our Frontman,” a protest song that’s as blistering in terms of groove as it is in terms of commentary.

Here’s a taste of the latter:

There is no future in our frontman
There is no gracefulness to his song
There is no melody in his choir
And I refuse to sing along

I love this metaphor so much. Not only is it incredibly apt, it’s profoundly ironic, because it brings into relief just how devoid of art our president’s life must be. Can you imagine him engaging in the creative process in any way? He danced to “My Way” to celebrate winning a democratically held election, for crying out loud.

If you dig the song like I do, click here to snag a 7-inch vinyl copy and/or its companion t-shirt, which was designed by brilliant artist and musician Lonnie Holley, who recently released a powerful statement of his own on the state of our democracy. (If you’ve been following this here blog, you might remember Holley was the opening act for White’s 2017 show at the Broadberry with Flo Morrissey in support of Gentlewoman, Ruby Man.) Proceeds go to voter registration and participation charities. Great song, great cause. Check it out.

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Mighty Joshua

It recently hit me that I’m approaching a momentous tipping point: I grew up in Norfolk but moved to Richmond for college when I was 17, and that was nearly 17 years ago, so in a matter of a month or so, I will have lived in Richmond as long as I lived in Norfolk. It’s a weird thing to think about — especially at a time when I keep hearing about exciting changes taking place in Norfolk in recent years.

One of those recent developments is the NEON District, an intentionally drawn area of downtown where arts institutions, businesses, and events have coalesced to harness Norfolk’s creative energy. The Chrysler Museum, the Virginia Opera, the D’Art Center, Work | Release, glass working, tons of street art… taken together, these resources represent a tipping point of their own — a destination for visitors and a gathering place for folks in town. Really neat.

It also makes a pretty snazzy backdrop for an Overcoast Session. Longtime YHT readers might remember the Dharma Bombs’ Overcoast Session, which was filmed at the Carter Family Fold in association with Virginia Tourism. Their newest collaboration finds Richmond reggae artist Mighty Joshua serenading the NEON District with “Them A Watching,” from his self-titled 2013 album. Check it out below.

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Sleepwalkers

Blessed be this day.

The birds are singing more sweetly. The sun is shining more brightly, rendering colors more vivid than had previously been seen by the human eye. And in a stunning reversal, Friday the 13th has officially been declared the luckiest day. Why?

Because Sleepwalkers have released new music. This is not a drill.

Fresh on the heels of news they were signing with Spacebomb Records, Sleepwalkers have shared “Wake Up” and “Reasons To Give Up In You,” both absolute gems. All hyberbole aside, this is a truly exciting day for those of us who fell in love with their 2014 album, Greenwood Shade, and have been waiting to see what their next move would be. A move to Spacebomb? The payoff couldn’t be more perfect.

Part of the newsworthiness of this moment is the fact that Spacebomb is putting out music they had “no direct hand in making,” as the label’s site puts it. “No need to improve on this maximalist pop masterpiece,” they go on to say, pointing to something that has always distinguished Sleepwalkers — their complete mastery of the studio environment. The group complements savvy songwriting and memorable melodies with a rare ability to envision and achieve specific moods and colors. This guitar effect. That snare sound. The specificity reflects a powerful knowledge of recording approaches from the 1960’s onward, and that focus on process is infectious — it invites ongoing deconstruction and appreciation as you notice how individual studio brush strokes come together to form something that’s undeniable and fun in aggregate. In short, it’s music that makes me like music more.

Speaking of fun, here are the videos for “Wake Up” and “Reasons To Give Up In You.” The former is home to a hook you’ll be humming along to for the foreseeable future, with guitar work that captivates just as quickly. The latter offers a sense of buoyancy that swells and swells throughout, with a chorus that lifts you up and places you back down beautifully.

Go forth, dear reader, into this new and wonderful world that includes new Sleepwalkers songs. Long live the new Friday the 13th.

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VILLAGES

Happy summer, y’all! Now that we’re halfway through the year — with midway best-of lists popping up here and there like fireflies and hydrangeas — I’ve started looking back at the albums that have come out so far in 2018. It’s been eye-opening. This is shaping up to be a crazy-good year for Richmond music. A+ albums from Lucy Dacus, Kenneka Cook, Natalie Prass, Saw Black, Andy Jenkins, Scott ClarkYeni Nostalji, and others, all in these first six months. It’s pretty wild. And as of tomorrow, you can add VILLAGES to that list.

Their new self-titled album is a quick listen at seven songs, and it’s even quicker in terms of resonance. These songs are easy to love right away, and while catchiness plays a part, I think an even bigger factor is the clarity of Justin Paciocco’s songwriting. In his review of John Prine’s new album, The Tree of Forgiveness, Fresh Air critic Ken Tucker referred to the “metric precision” in Prine’s songwriting. I hear that same precision in Paciocco’s songs. The pacing, the rhyming, the way narratives unfold — it all just feels right. Impeccable, but not fussed-over.

Give lead single “Everything Is Fine” a listen below. The band will be toasting to the album’s release tomorrow at the Camel alongside The Northerners and Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires. Click here for more info.

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Steve Bassett

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

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

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

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

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