Emitt Rhodes

I don’t always hit up sidewalk sales, but when I do, it always seems to be at Deep Groove Records. There’s something about flipping through records in nice weather right there on Robinson Street… I love it.

I’ve had luck at their sales in the past, but nothing like this weekend. I snagged five items, and I’m going to try to do quickie posts about each of them, because I’m that psyched and can’t help sharing.

First up is Mirror, the third album from one man band Emitt Rhodes. All the instruments, all the vocals… all Rhodes, same as the self-titled album he released before this one. I have the kind folks from Sleepwalkers to thank for putting him on my radar when I first met and interviewed them. Fitting, given how versatile and studio savvy the guys from Sleepwalkers are.

The record was pretty cloudy, which might explain why it was part of a sidewalk sale, but a wood glue peel cleared things up considerably. I hadn’t heard a note of Mirror (it doesn’t seem to be available via iTunes or streaming), but much like his eponymous album, it’s excellent, especially when you factor in Rhodes’ solo approach. Right up there with Paul McCartney’s best post-Beatles output.

See what I mean:

Emitt Rhodes — “Better Side of Life” [YouTube/Discogs]

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Joni Mitchell

First… an apology. I know lots of YHT posts these days boil down to writing about writing — getting the word out about pieces of mine that are published here and there. Interviews and longer articles have definitely been keeping me typing, which is good. I guess that’s more of an acknowledgement than an apology. If you’re reading this, I am exceedingly thankful for your companionship and your help in keeping the blog life alive.

Second… more writing about writing! I had to pass along a link to Lindsay Zoladz’s Ringer article about Joni Mitchell titled “Fear of a Female Genius.” It’s such a powerful and inspiring portrait of a powerful and inspiring person. The force of her individuality comes through in ways that I hadn’t understood or heard about before, and the very end is so touching. Prince is involved. You’ll feel feelings, I promise.

There’s also a fascinating description of how she came to write “Both Sides Now,” the last song on her Clouds album from 1969. I love Blue deeply, but Clouds may be my favorite Mitchell album to play at home, in part because my mother-in-law told me at one point that Clouds was THE jam on her dorm’s hallway at Wheelock College back in the day. I even made a habit of spinning it whenever she visited. A couple of years later, she politely told me she’s not actually the biggest Joni Mitchell fan. Oops.

Still, Clouds was the first thing I reached for when I decided to embark upon a Joni binge with Zoladz’s piece in the front of my mind. “Both Sides Now” describes knowing and not knowing — how experience can paradoxically drive home the limitations of your perspective. That’s certainly how I feel after reading what Lindsay Zoladz wrote. Apparently I didn’t know Mitchell at all.

Joni Mitchell — “Both Sides Now” [Spotify/iTunes]

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Mdou Moctar

Some happy moments are easy to relive. A dinner that came together just right. A book worth rereading. An inside joke that keeps making you and a friend laugh.

Then there are moments so singular that you’re filled with gratitude at having experienced them as they zoom away in the rear-view. I can say with certainty that I won’t soon have a Friday evening like last Friday evening.

So many thanks go out to my friend G, who gave me a heads up earlier in the week about an event happening at the University of Richmond involving Tuareg desert blues — a style she and I have a shared enthusiasm for. We’ve sent Sahel Sounds Bandcamp links back and forth, and I even grabbed a used copy of Music from Saharan Cellphones: Volume 2 when I saw it at Plan 9 because I knew she’d dig it.

She repaid me a thousand times over by letting me know that Mdou Moctar, one of the artists featured on that compilation, would be performing at UR after a screening of Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai, which translates to “Rain the color blue with a little red in it.” That’s right — Moctar collaborated with Christopher Kirkley from Sahel Sounds on a remake of Prince’s Purple Rain set in the Sarhara, purple motorcycle and all. It was insanely cool, though I have to confess: I can’t comment on the intertextual angle, because [takes a deep breath] I’ve never seen Purple Rain. I thought about finding it and cramming it into the busy days leading up to the event, but then I fell in love with the idea of seeing Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai first. How fun will watching Prince’s version be for the first time? I seriously can’t wait.

After the screening, Moctar and his band — the same rhythm guitarist and percussionist who backed him in the movie — walked down the auditorium’s aisle to thunderous applause and went on to play six songs, with stretches of Francophone Q&A sprinkled throughout and translated by Kirkley. Especially interesting was hearing how Kirkley and Moctar first connected — wary phone calls, files sent haphazardly via Internet connectivity Moctar likened to what the U.S. would have had in 1996. It’s amazing to think how easily that connection could have been lost. Yet there they were, working together to answer questions from Central Virginians about the movie they made together in the Sahara desert.

Moctar’s playing was exceptional. His left-handed Stratocaster work first seemed more focused on color and shape than virtuosity, as he’s extremely gifted at shading via countermelody. But by the sixth and final song — a chunkier rock tune — Moctar was plucking as fast as I imagine a hummingbird beats its wings, and the runs he unleashed while standing next to the drums and egging his bandmates on were nothing short of jaw-dropping. True to the Saharan Cellphones tradition, I made a few crappy iPhone recordings, and somehow the audio of that last song is even more impressive than my memory of seeing it, which doesn’t even make sense.

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. Check out the title track below, and click here to see the remaining dates on this tour. Not every stop involves a screen of Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai, but I can guarantee a singular experience nonetheless.

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

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Brother Roy

Lots of good music in town over the weekend. On Friday, I left work, picked Toddler YHT up from daycare, and headed in the direction of Hardywood, where a three band bill was kicking off at 6 p.m.

My daughter almost always asks if she can come when I’m getting ready to head out for a show, even when it’s a later show and she’s already in her pajamas. Still, she needed a little coaxing when on the way out of daycare.

“Guess what? We’re going to a concert!”

“…”

“The concert will have a food truck that makes grilled cheeses…”

“Let’s go!”

Dori Freeman was my main motivating factor. She has a new album coming out next month, and I’d hoped to hear that new material, but it turned out that hers was the second set. Knowing that we’d probably only be able to hang around for a few songs past 7 p.m., we stopped by the food truck, ate dinner at a table in the parking lot, and headed inside to split an ice cream sandwich and catch what we could of the first act, NYC-based Brother Roy.

The voice I heard while we were outside eating sounded quite a bit like Conor Oberst’s, but once I could follow the lyrics a little more closely, Brother Roy — performing solo with a keyboard — reminded me more of Randy Newman. The tune that really grabbed my attention was “Carolina,” a montage of idealized southern living images with a hint of Newman’s wry, hyperbolic humor. Really neat.

Brother Roy made a fan out of Toddler YHT as well. She even made me hold our ice cream sandwich so she could clap.

Brother Roy — “Carolina” [Spotify/Bandcamp]

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Eric Slick

Getting to interview a musician who made one of your favorite albums of the year is quite an honor, but getting to interview a musician whose music changed your life for the better? That’s something else entirely. Something rare and special.

Hearing “You Are Not Your Mind,” from Eric Slick’s 2017 Palisades album, was a truly revelatory experience. I ended up writing about it back in April:

I often fall into the trap of assuming there’s a way to think my way out of every situation. I also tend to prioritize my inner experience when I’m feeling less than good about what’s going on on the outside, whether that’s the clothes I’m wearing or my inability to force myself to exhibit extroversion when it counts. And while the mind can certainly act as a refuge, I love the idea that there’s some other self that’s even more basic — something that’s not so readily accessible or easily tinkered with.

With that in mind (no pun intended), it was such a gift to be able to speak with Slick over the phone and learn more about how that song was written, how he balances the brightness of his personality with the heft of this songs’ themes, and how he came to be part of this beautiful Richmond music community. The interview just went up on Richmond Navigator’s site — click here to check it out. (Print copies of River City Magazine should be on newsstands any day now.)

I want to thank Eric very sincerely for doing the interview, and I want to encourage you good people to take a listen to “You Are Not Your Mind” below. Maybe you’ll end up with a revelatory experience of your own.

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

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The Novel Ideas

Boston-based country-folk group The Novel Ideas just released their debut full-length this past Friday. It’s a fantastic album — packed with harmonies and strong songwriting — and the timing couldn’t be better for Richmonders, because the band is stopping by Capital Ale House tomorrow night.

With that show on the horizon, I spoke over the phone with singer and guitarist Daniel Radin about the album, how their harmonies take shape, how they ended up at a studio on the other side of the country… all sorts of fun stuff. Check the interview out over at Richmond Navigator, and click here for more info about tomorrow’s performance. (Spoiler alert: No cover!)

The Novel Ideas — “The Old Ways” [Bandcamp/Spotify]

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Larry Davis

I picked this compilation up a few years back at the Thrift & More Store, located in the median of Pocahontas Trail in New Kent County. The collection is named after the Larry Davis song — a tongue-in-cheek number about how attractive the women in Houston are. Given the events of the last few days, and the harrowing rescue videos coming out of Houston as Harvey continues to cause flooding, it’s tempting to think about the song’s title in another context. I’m not religious, but when I see people with small boats risking their safety to help others, that seems pretty angelic to me.

Davis is also the one who wrote “Texas Flood,” which Stevie Ray Vaughan would go on to cover and even name an album after. It’s an incredibly sad listen right now, but I hope it moves one or two of you to contribute to relief efforts. The Red Cross is where I decided to donate (click here to do so now), though plenty of other organizations could use your help. Consider it your own angelic act in the face of something truly awful.

Larry Davis — “Texas Flood” [YouTube]

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