I first started writing this blog in 2011. The decision to do so was fairly spontaneous, and I had no idea that writing about music would change my life as much as it has. I might have expected that I’d learn about bands and albums, and that my world would expand in that way, but I couldn’t have guessed that I’d meet so many people who make the universe seem like a bigger, more beautiful place.
Two of those people play in Afro-Zen Allstars. One is Brian Cruse, the friendly, talented, and in-demand bassist I interviewed for River City Magazine in 2015. The other is the band’s founder, leader, and arranger, George M. Lowe, who is the subject of my latest article for the magazine. A short time back, Lowe and I met up at Addis downtown for Ethiopian food and an interview. As was the case with Cruse, we talked for nearly two hours, and I walked away amazed at Lowe’s warmth, his bravery, and his other-worldly devotion to music. That’s where the title of the article came from (the “Golden” part is a reference to the Ethiopian music that inspired Lowe to form the Allstars). I hope you’ll take a look online or find a print copy. I have a feeling you’ll end up as devoted to Afro-Zen Allstars as I am.
Many thanks, George, for all your help, and for making the world a bigger, more joyful, and better sounding place.
Afro-Zen Allstars — “Aj Aj” [Bandcamp/iTunes]
The new issue of RVA Magazine (#28, to be exact) is out now, and in addition to a truly a gorgeous pink cover, it sports an article I wrote about Dazeases, one of the most exciting new artists to emerge from Richmond’s music scene in recent memory. Working on this was a genuinely inspiring experience. Dazeases has a true artist’s creative drive, and her compass is guided by a powerful sense of self-determination, whether you’re looking at her inventive approach to songcraft or her singular performance style. (Case in point: Her performance this Friday will include two venues and a 5-minute guided walk in between. How cool is that?)
I owe Dazeases my thanks, both for the inspiration she radiates and for all her help with the article, and I hope you’ll take the time to get to know her a little better by picking up a copy of the magazine or by reading online here.
Dazeases — “Laurel” [Spotify/YouTube]
Really excited to spread the word about this. A few months ago, I had a chance to interview Mark Branch, the blues singer you might have seen at the entrance to the South of the James Farmer’s Market. My family goes there just about every week when the weather is warm, which makes Markiss Blowfish — that’s Branch’s stage name — the Richmond musician I see most often.
Whether I’m walking by in a hurry or stopping with my daughter to move along with Branch’s steady, chugging guitar playing, the amount of joy in my day increases as a result of hearing him sing, and I can report that speaking with him about music and his journey in life had the same effect. The experience left me thanking my lucky stars for my sense of place. Places matter, and they’re more than just locations. They’re the routines you settle into. The people you see. I’m so thankful for that market and this city and the feeling I get when I hear Branch’s voice booming in the distance when I’m walking toward him. Also Mrs. Yoder’s donuts. Can’t leave those out.
I hope you’ll pick up a copy of River City Magazine or read online to learn more about him. And be sure to check him out at the South of the James Market. It’s a wonderful, soul-nourishing way to start your weekend.
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”
-Christmas song written by someone who hasn’t witnessed a Friday Cheers schedule rollout
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Friday Cheers is my favorite part of the year. It’s warm but not sweaty, the weekends feel longer, since the early Cheers start times mean you’re outside and enjoying yourself ASAP… it makes me so happy. Here’s the full schedule. Things are going to be a little nutty this year, given that Mrs. YHT is set to deploy Baby YHT #2 in early May, but here are three of the shows I’m hopeful that we/I/y’all will be able to make:
Lee Fields & the Expressions with Kings — May 5
This show being announced was my Lee Fields wake-up call. I see his records nearly every time I go to Steady Sounds, and I keep meaning to learn more about him — now’s the time. I’m doing it. You can’t stop me. Friday Cheers has hosted two of the best soul shows I’ve ever seen — Charles Bradley and the late great Sharon Jones — so this one shouldn’t be missed.
Conor Oberst with Big Thief — June 2
Already snagged a ticket for this one. I wrote a short time ago about how psyched I am for his special-guest-heavy upcoming album Salutations, and since it’ll be out by the time this show rolls around, I’ll almost certainly be spending some quality time at the merch tent on June 2.
Car Seat Headrest with Gold Connections — June 30
OK, so I saw them twice last year. I don’t care — as Toddler YHT’s hero Ariel once said so poignantly “I want more…” Speaking of wanting more, I managed to find a used copy of Teens of Style, the album prior to Teens of Denial, and I was surprised by how many of the older (relatively speaking — he’s released ocean of material already) songs I knew. I recommend prepping for this show by diving into Will Toledo’s earlier stuff, which can be found on Bandcamp.
Hope y’all are getting excited as well. Here’s another link to the full schedule and here’s a link to an article I wrote last year about Friday Cheers that includes an interview with Venture Richmond Festival Manager Stephen Lecky.
[Editor’s Note: American Tunes is a series of posts dedicated to songs that address America’s social and political challenges. For more information on the series, click here.]
Goosebumps. Waves of them.
The singing here is exceptional — the execution, the creativity, the transitions… it’s all stunning. But what made me want to include “Black History” in this series is the way it tells a comprehensive story. The medley weaves together gospel songs that reflect significant moments from throughout the African-American experience, providing a long view that’s at once confounding and inspiring. (Click here to read more about which songs are included and why.)
Never in my lifetime has there been a bigger gap between the need for Americans to understand history and their willingness to do so. The past’s mistakes are being repeated at a dizzying rate. Too many congressmen take advantage of short memories by shamelessly arguing opposite sides of an issue, depending on which is presently advantageous. Too many people who benefit from systematic discrimination refuse to acknowledge that those systems discriminate.
What we need is more of the long view. More history. More of the kind of deep and broad understanding Resound is voicing here.
Resound — “Black History” [Spotify/YouTube]
Filed under #features, #rva