And I was glad of a chance to rest, And glad of a chance to drink with my friend. We sang to the tune of the wind in the pines, And finished our songs as the star-stream ebbed.
歡言得所憩, 美酒聊共揮. 長歌吟松風, 曲盡河星稀.
-Li Bai (李白)
Every time I attend a Vandaveer show, I feel like I’m witness to such ineffable beauty that it is foolish to try to capture it in words. It seems akin to the struggle of nature writers in describing wilderness and the experience of the sublime – those moments when you feel small and humble before the magnitude of the skies, caught up in an infinite storm of beauty, inextricably intertwined with the ebb and flow of the seas.
Continue reading “Moonlight, my homeward escort: Vandaveer’s Living Room Tour”
Days of rain. Not spring rain, the kind that nourishes new life, but late autumn rain. The kind that seeps into your bones and makes you weary, weary beyond your years, weary of waking up to headlines in which a city name is metonym for all that is fundamentally broken, weary of the emotional output demanded by the holidays, of tallying up mistakes and trying to outrun your own shadow.
The rain tapered to a drizzle mid-day and I laced up for a run. The Reflecting Pool was deserted, the Tidal Basin drew only a few brave tourists. I usually crave these moments of solitude, the grim satisfaction of pushing through the weariness. But that day, the wind whipping through the trees and the staccato of my shoes against wet gravel sounded more stark than soothing.
So I put on some music. Not my normal running playlist of pop and hip-hop, but the music of a singer-songwriter I started listening to a few weeks ago. His name is Jesse Terry. His music is filled with a simple grace, with lyrics that capture beautifully the eternal tug-of-war between head and heart. If you like Josh Ritter, Ryan Adams, or Jackson Browne, give Jesse’s music a try. His soothing voice paired with acoustic guitar is like a gentle sunbeam parting monochrome sky.
Continue reading “This Could Be Home: Jesse Terry + Suzie Brown & Scot Sax”
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.
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.
Continue reading “Stone Room Concerts: Vandaveer”
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”