Category Archives: #rva

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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Kenneka Cook

Back in January, on the very same day that Bandcamp Weekly posted a new episode with Kenneka Cook as the featured guest, I had the honor of chatting with Cook over lunch at Pop’s Market. I’m excited to say the resulting RVA Magazine article is on newsstands now, and I hope it reflects how fun and wide-ranging that conversation was. We talked about everything from her approach to different songs on the album and the brilliance of American Paradox community to the music she grew up with and our shared love for Richmond’s record stores.

More than anything else, I hope you all get a sense for Cook’s vision and voice. Separately, those words point to different ideas. Different senses. A way you receive information about the world and a way you share information with the world. But vision and voice can both represent loftier ideas, as well, like imagination and influence — things that can come together in the creative process to render something truly new and special. That’s what I hear on Cook’s wonderful debut album, Moonchild. Check out the title track below and be sure to grab a copy of RVA Magazine if you see a stack around town.

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Lucy Dacus

I’ve been in the list-making bunker, trying to figure out how to wrangle a whole mess of albums I really enjoyed this year, but I thought I’d step out briefly to join in the celebration of Lucy Dacus’ new tune, “Night Shift.”

It’s the lead single off her upcoming album, Historian (out March 2, pre-order here), and it’s a triumph, bursting at the seams with the brilliance that made “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” such a breakout success, including:

  • Astoundingly vivid and memorable lyrics, with an opening that grabs your ears like few I’ve heard: “The first time I tasted somebody else’s spit I had a coughing fit.”
  • Emotional intelligence that permeates every word, with brutally incisive lines like “You don’t deserve what you don’t respect, don’t deserve what you say you love and then neglect.”
  • Vocals so rich and ranging that you feel like you’re along for the journey the lyrics describe.
  • A lengthy coda that opens the song up dynamically in a cathartic combination of resignation and hope.

It was that exceptional coda that stood out when I saw her perform “Night Shift” at The National in 2016, but having an opportunity to sit with the quieter moments has been rewarding, as is always the case with Dacus’ music. Forgive me if I’ve said something similar in the past while singing her praises, but Dacus’ lyrics comprise some of my favorite writing anywhere, in much the same way that John Darnielle’s Mountain Goats lyrics feel like they transcend their form. Maybe award-winning novels are in her future, as well.

On more than one level, this song makes me look forward 2018. 2017 was a year in which I found myself enjoying more new music than ever while feeling less inspired to write about it in personal terms. Some of that was time scarcity, some was political-shitstorm-related paralysis, some was focusing on writing assignments in which my life didn’t figure prominently. But “Night Shift” brings me back to a place of excitement and energy. Some musicians make you want to run to the nearest instrument and start noodling; Dacus makes me want to start typing.

Speaking of which, back to the bunker for me. Hope y’all enjoy “Night Shift” as well.

Lucy Dacus — “Night Shift” [Spotify/YouTube]

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Sid Kingsley

Think about one of your favorite singers, and try to remember the very first time you heard him or her sing. Did it stop you in your tracks? Did you look around the room, like “What the hell is happening right now?”

That was my experience hearing Sid Kingsley for the first time. Listening through Good Way Home on its release day back in May was an uncanny experience, both because of the jolt I got from his voice and because the album includes covers of songs by artists who are near and dear to my heart. A new favorite vocalist. New versions of favorite songs. It was such a trip…

…which made having the opportunity to sit down with Kingsley and interview him for River City Magazine even more of a trip. We chatted on the patio outside Cary Street Café, and in case you’re wondering, yes, I did nerd out and bring my vinyl copy of Good Way Home for him to sign. He did so graciously, and the article that resulted from our conversation hit the interweb this week. Click here to check it out, and click here to see where you can snag a physical copy of the magazine.

Want to know what’s really crazy? The uncanny experiences with Good Way Home haven’t stopped. I’m seeing two concerts in the next two nights, and Kingsley’s album features versions of songs either written or made famous by both of them: “Moonshiner,” a traditional tune previously recorded by Bob Dylan, and “Sam Stone,” by John Prine. Both are embedded below.

If you haven’t heard Good Way Home yet, you’re in for a treat. Maybe you’ll even have your own “What the hell is happening right now?” moment.

Sid Kingsley — “Moonshiner” [Spotify/iTunes]

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

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