Tag Archives: Brian Cruse

Afro-Zen Allstars

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]

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2015! Holy Crap! Part 4: Resplendent Richmond Releases

Anousheh — Make Noise

Anousheh

When I first wrote about Make Noise, I zoomed in on “Blue Red” and how it’s illustrative of a powerful emotional intelligence:

There is a wonderful specificity to the lyrics — real and focused emotional messages that are often missing from music with the pop signifiers you hear on Make Noise — but my main takeaway has been more general. I hear both sensitivity and boldness in its words, and when you’re going through difficult times, those two qualities couldn’t be more crucial.

Another great example is “Lightning,” The burn is slow, building from the verse to a passage that would serve as the chorus were it not for an even more intense, imploring chorus that follows. All the while, you get a glimpse into this private world of motivations — one where strength and vulnerability are tuned on their heads: “Your lightning keeps on burning holes in my thick skin.” Each track on Make Noise presents this kind of lived-in universe worth exploring with patience and empathy. In that sense, this could be one of your favorite albums of 2016 as well.

Anousheh — “Lightning” [Spotify/iTunes]

Scott Clark 4tet — Bury My Heart

Scott Clark

Ambition is best when paired with honor, and Bury My Heart is proof. In communicating the tragic story of the Native American genocide, Scott Clark has issued an open invitation to consider more deeply a part of American history that is too often (and callously) ignored. The fact that he set out to convey such weighty subject matter wordlessly is where the ambition comes in. To say he let the notes do the talking would be to downplay how difficult it is to imbue an instrumental piece with specific ideas and emotions; the capacity to do this has always seemed borderline magical to me. Clark clearly has that capacity, and it’s inspiring to see the gift used to such a righteous end.

Scott Clark 4tet — “Broken Treaties” [iTunes]

Brian Cruse — Brian Cruse presents: The B-Snap-tet

Brian Cruse

From my interview with Cruse for River City Magazine:

In 2014, he set his sights on recording a new album, and he decided to do so under a new name – the B-Snap-tet… Under the guiding hand of Minimum Wage Recording owner Lance Koehler, who also recorded and engineered Con Legno, Cruse produced a truly eclectic listening experience, from the hip-hop-inspired “Nightlight” to the album’s meditative centerpiece, “26.1,” which takes on the grave topic of the previous year’s Boston Marathon bombing.

Brian Cruse presents: B-Snaptet — “Side Steppin’” [Spotify/iTunes]

The Diamond Center — Crystals for the Brass Empire

Diamond Center

From when I first posted about the album in October:

Crystals is excellent; I got my vinyl copy a few Fridays back and felt transported — each track felt like it was dropping me on the set of a different old movie.

The Diamond Center — “Bones” [Spotify/iTunes]

Manatree — Manatree

Manatree

From my review of the album:

A glowing YHT review of this album is long overdue. Same goes for Manatree’s live show — both are polished and powerful to a degree that’s rare for a band promoting a debut full-length. These songs are so sharp, precisely pivoting from clean to heavy, all the while building melodies that hold tracks together. The word “agile” comes to mind. This is the music Fender guitars dream of when they’re not being played.

Manatree — “Fat Jackson” [Spotify/iTunes]

No BS! Brass Band — Brass Knuckles

No BS Brass Band

From my review of the album:

I don’t think No BS! will stop acting as ambassadors of Richmond fun anytime soon, but judging by their new album, Brass Knuckles, they have their eyes set on an even bigger role. By taking up the banner of social justice in songs like “Act Like You Know” and “Tyrannis,” the group is using their force-of-nature arrangements and abilities to amplify the voices of those in the community who are taking progressive stances on issues related to race, inequality, and policing.

No BS! Brass Band — “Brass Knuckles” [Soundcloud/iTunes]

Positive No — Glossa

Positive No

I’ve written about Glossa a few times since its release (check those posts out here, here, and here), and I was so thrilled to see “Pedal Through” included on NPR’s favorite songs list. Congrats to Positive No on an excellent year!

Positive No — “Pedal Through” [Bandcamp]

Natalie Prass — Natalie Prass

Natalie Prass

From my RVA Mag blurb:

This was the album I reached for when friends and family came for dinner or a visit. I loved playing them “It Is You,” a marvel of a song, and hearing the beat to “Bird Of Prey” and the powerful conclusion of “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” meant pinching myself — reconfirming that this phenomenon, with roots in Richmond, was real.

Natalie Prass — “Why Don’t You Believe In Me” [Spotify/iTunes]

Sam Reed — This is Love

Sam Reed

From my RVA Mag blurb:

When I first heard This Is Love, I couldn’t get over the one-two punch of “Come Inside” and “Real Feel Sound.” I kept replaying them, amazed by the confluence of soul, gospel, jazz, R&B and hip hop. Reed’s voice soars in spots and seethes in others, and the backdrop provided by the Jellowstone family — especially the gritty bass in “Come Inside” and the enormous chorus of “Real Feel Sound” — had me enthralled. It’s such a lush, detailed landscape.

Sam Reed — “Come Inside” [Spotify/iTunes]

The Trillions — Superposition

The Trillions

From my RVA Mag blurb:

Most bands would kill to be as complex or as catchy as the Trillions can be, yet it’s the balance they bring to those forces that makes them truly exceptional. “Dead Meat” is my favorite illustration yet. There’s more musicality in opening seconds than in some entire albums, yet the intro gives way to a verse that exudes strength via sparse precision. Throw in a sweetly sung, slightly unsettling chorus and you have the Trillions at their best — a powerhouse as discerning as it is dynamic.

The Trillions — “Right ’til Proven Wrong” [Spotify/iTunes]

Matthew E. White — Fresh Blood

Matthew E. White

From my RVA Mag blurb:

White’s taken his hushed vocals and preternatural knack for gathering talent and applied them to subjects ranging from simple pleasures (“Fruit Trees”) to church abuse (“Holy Moly”), Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Tranquility”) to music itself (“Rock & Roll Is Cold”), all the while lifting up the R&B tradition to which he’s making significant contributions.

Matthew E. White — “Tranquility” [Spotify/iTunes]

More retrospective fun!

Part 1: Fav Physical Releases
Part 2: Blasts from the Past
Part 3: Excellent EPs

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Brian Cruse

Brian Cruse

So excited to have finally gotten my hands on a copy of the September/October issue of River City Magazine. Hopefully y’all already snagged a copy and saw the article I did with bassist Brian Cruse. If not, you can check it out here (UPDATED LINK). I really hope you will, because I can honestly say that the conversation that led to this article is among my favorite interview experiences.

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Backstage with Richmond’s Brewery Boom

Breweries

Talk about arduous research. I got to write an article for River City Magazine about the symbiotic relationship between Richmond’s breweries and bands. Lots of boozy fun was had, and I’m super-duper excited to share the results — click here to check it out over at Richmond Navigator’s site.

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