American Aquarium (Photo courtesy Shore Fire Media)
A few weeks ago, American Aquarium released their new studio album Chicamacomico via Thirty Tigers — a heart-wrenching reflection on loss that finds frontman BJ Barham scaling new expressive heights, resulting in the band’s most elemental and emotionally resonant work to date.
Fresh off the recent release of Lifted, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Anderson’s second album for Blue Note Records, his traveling mini-festival of funk that is Voodoo Threauxdown made its way to Northern Virginia for a nearly four-hour show at Wolf Trap. The recent performance headlined by Trombone Shorty included four bands whose members span the history and the future of New Orleans music.
Tears for Fears perform at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 19, 2022. (Photos by Kyle Gustafson; Words by Mickey McCarter)
Roland Orzabal emerged from the shadows with the looks of an aging wizard when Tears for Fears appeared on stage at Merriweather Post Pavilion recently. And he did what you would like Roland to do: He sang a song of loneliness and isolation. He sang of a desire for new beginnings and freedom. And he sang of how maybe we’ll never be truly understood. But his perspective had changed.
When singing “No Small Thing” from the extraordinary new Tears for Fears album, the sense of existential terror that pervaded the band’s early songs like “Mad World” and “Change” was replaced with a weariness. Roughly 40 years after the start of the band, they weren’t protesting, “What is happening?,” as much as they were wondering, “What had happened?”
Despite the shift, the resulting soul-searching remained very satisfying.
Eric Byrd Trio performs at Portside Summer Festival in Alexandria, Virginia. (Photo by Mark Caicedo)
What do you get when you mix breezy, sunny summer afternoons, delicious food and beverages, an eclectic selection of musical groups, set it all on the spectacular Old Town Alexandria waterfront, and then make it free admission? You get the Portside Summer Festival, a wonderful annual event, produced by Visit Alexandria in partnership with the City of Alexandria’s Office of the Arts.
For nearly 40 years, Bob Pollard has been leading Guided by Voices from the early lo-fi days to the slick production of major label offerings and then to the current powerhouse of Kevin March on drums, Doug Gilliard and Bobby Bare Jr. on guitar, and Mark Shue on bass.
For the past several years, Guided by Voices has released, on average, two records of new material every year (though now it’s really closer to three albums per year), and they are putting out some of their strongest material perhaps in that entire period. How does this band, who has released six albums just since the start of the Covid pandemic (and seven with July’s Tremblers and Goggles by Rank), keep things fresh? The answer could be seen in Guided by Voices most recent visit to the 9:30 Club.
One of my favorite singer-songwriters, Texas legend Ray Wylie Hubbard, likes to say, “The problem with irony is that not everybody gets it.” That’s a damn shame, because irony is all around us. Star Wars posited an invisible Force that surrounds all life and binds it together. Maybe it’s some Ashkenazic connection to Kafka motivating this statement, but I’m partial to the notion that the driving force of the universe might be irony.
One of those ironies surrounds the term “Americana” as a genre of music. You might think, given the word, that it’s specifically to, well, America. But that’s, at the very least, an oversimplification. The Band, who were, with the exception of Arkansas’s Levon Helm, all Canadian, are often considered the founders of Americana. That conversation could also include, reasonably, Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons, and Neil Young, who is also Canadian.
Canada has a thriving Americana scene, and when the roots-rock duo The Bros. Landreth appeared at City Winery in DC recently, we get to see some of that in the states.
When Mandy Moore took to the stage this week for her show at 9:30 Club she faced a daunting task. After an 11-year hiatus between releasing albums (and 15 years between tours), Moore was due for a DC area performance back in 2020 to promote her new Silver Landings album. As the world shut down and the tour was forced into postponement, Mandy Moore hunkered down to write and record yet another new album, In Real Life.
Back in April, singer-songwriter Molly Tuttle released Crooked Tree via Nonesuch Records, exploring her love of bluegrass, which she discovered through her father, a music teacher and multi-instrumentalist, and her grandfather, a banjo player.