Vandaveer at the 9:30 Club

I’m home for a day between week-long trips to Alaska and northern California. (As much as I dream about being Bob Boilen’s lackey, I do love my job.) There’s just enough time to do laundry and post some photos that I took last week. I’ve written volumes about the indie-folk band Vandaveer, so I won’t repeat myself here. Just promise me you’ll give them listen. Fistful of Swoon is sublime and aptly named. (Darker than the swoon of sin. James Joyce. Discuss.)

Click through the slideshow for pics from Vandaveer’s August 9, 2014 show at the 9:30 Club.

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We Could Stay Gold: 14 Songs for Summer 2014

The sweet languor of summer days pairs perfectly with the mellowness of indie folk. This playlist features some of my favorite new albums from the first half of 2014. Hope you enjoy.

summer mix album art

The sweet languor of summer days pairs perfectly with the mellowness of indie folk. And when the road beckons — when you roll down the window and taste the freedom in the air — those moments call for sunny, glossy indie rock. This playlist includes some of my favorite albums from the first half of 2014. It starts with shades of folk (Americana, folktronica, folk-pop), makes side a excursion into pop and neo-soul, and closes with ebullient, sunshiny rock. Hope you enjoy.

We Could Stay Gold — Summer 2014 Mix
First Aid Kit • Damien Jurado • Sylvan Esso • PHOX • Vandaveer
Lake Street Dive • Conor Oberst • South Rail • Mimicking Birds •  Ha Ha Tonka
Beck • The Rosebuds • Damon Albarn • Hamilton Leithauser

If you like this music, please support the artists by purchasing their albums.
Just click on the track listing to go to the online store.

1. First Aid Kit — “Stay Gold”

The Swedish folk duo’s charming, ambling song may be my theme for summer. It seems so fragile on first listen, but the lilting vocals convey lyrics of surprising heft. To borrow from my favorite Byronic hero: “I did not then know that it was no transitory blossom, but rather the radiant resemblance of one, cut in an indestructible gem.”


2. Damien Jurado — “Silver Timothy”

This song has nestled in my subconscious and refuses to leave. It’s a little bossa nova and a little psychedelic, and it makes me feel like I’m floating on a breeze of melodies.


3. Sylvan Esso — “Coffee”

Sylvan Esso is the Durham, North Carolina folk-electro-pop project of Amelia Meath (Mountain Man) and Nick Sanborn (Megafaun). Meath’s voice is warm and weary as she takes us on fast-forward through the seasons, sketching vignettes: Wild winters, warm coffee / mom’s gone, do you love me / Blazing summer, cold coffee / baby’s gone, do you love me? Sanborn provides the electronic texture — the skittering synths, the chimes between verses. There is something different about Sylvan Esso. Something delightful.

Continue reading “We Could Stay Gold: 14 Songs for Summer 2014”

July music recommendations

Pennsylvania Ave, sundown

It’s summer in D.C. The heat radiates off the sidewalks. Your morning runs might as well take place in a sauna. And your World Cup bracket is in shambles. Happily, live music cures most ailments, so here are a few suggestions.

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Stone Room Concerts: Vandaveer

V2forblog

Storytelling is a powerful art. It is also an undervalued one, as our attention spans are increasingly trained to max out at 140 characters. Storytelling is one reason I’m drawn to folk music: the murder ballads, the tales from the road (literal and metaphorical), the parables of losing your way on dusty old streets¹ and finding your way when the light cuts through the great storm in the sky.² But to craft songs about love, self-ruin, and betrayal without sounding hackneyed — that takes true talent. And Vandaveer is truly talented.

Vandaveer is the D.C.-by-way-of-Kentucky alt-folk project of Mark Charles Heidinger. Mark plays with a host of other musicians including, most prominently, Rose Guerin. In the band’s stripped-down incarnation, Mark sings and plays guitar while Rose offers up crystalline harmonies that infuse haunting melodies with an angelic purity. In studio and on some tour stops, Vandaveer’s sound is fleshed out with a rotating cast that includes J. Tom Hnatow on pedal steel and banjo and Ben Sollee on cello.

Roseforblog

In trying to describe Vandaveer’s style through folk duo comparisons, I find myself thinking of Johnny Cash & June Carter but with less country and more folk, Shovels & Rope with less twang and more darkness, or maybe the Avett Brothers meets the Indigo Girls.

But these rough comparisons do not capture the way Vandaveer’s music ensnares your senses with delicately intertwined harmonies that are sometimes comforting and other times aching with loneliness. Mark delivers literate rhymes with an ease that belies the angst of the narrator. Even on first listen, the melodies tug on the edges of your memory, as if you’ve heard the song before but can’t quite place it. Vandaveer’s magic is in giving musical form to the shadows of thoughts that lurk in the back alleys of our collective unconscious.

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Finding Roots: Carolina Chocolate Drops in Concert

CCDcover

This post is about the superb show last Tuesday by the Carolina Chocolate Drops and openers Birds of Chicago and David Wax Museum. But I would be remiss if I did not first acknowledge that last week, the world of folk music lost two beloved artists: singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester and Brown Bird’s David Lamb. Newspapers have eulogized Winchester as “a honey-voiced singer who wrote thoughtful songs with deep Southern roots[,] . . . plain-spoken and succinct,” and a “tunesmith of lyrical, sensitive ballads.”

Less well-known but no less admired by friends and fans was David Lamb, half of the indie-folk duo Brown Bird. A tribute concert for Lamb, held last week in the band’s home base of Providence, Rhode Island, drew, by one estimate, a thousand people. The tattooed troubadours (as NPR dubbed them), who toured last year with Trampled By Turtles, mixed American folk with eastern European rhythms, crafting songs both haunting and high-spirited.

I will leave the tributes to the professionals and simply remark on the enduring power of music — including the music of these two men — to remind us of home and propel us through tough times. Louisiana-born and Memphis-reared Jesse Winchester wrote “Mississippi, You’re On My Mind” in Canada, where he had moved to avoid the draft. The song conveys a yearning for the south he left behind — not sugar-coated and romanticized, yet romantic in its embrace of the tumbledown, ramshackle parts of the place that was home: I think I hear a noisy old John Deere in a field / Specked with dirty cotton lint, and beyond that Field runs a little country creek, and there you’ll Find the cool green leaves of mint.

Continue reading “Finding Roots: Carolina Chocolate Drops in Concert”