American Aquarium (Photo courtesy Red Light Management)
“I hoped this song would become irrelevant when I wrote in 2016,” said BJ Barham, frontman of country-rockers American Aquarium, when he introduced their song “The World Is On Fire” at the 9:30 Club recently. He continued, “It scares me that my daughter has less rights than my mother.”
BJ excoriated the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Dobbs, which eliminated the constitutional right to abortion. There was a real flash of anger as he spoke about the tyranny of old, white Christian men imposing their values on the country.
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.
American Aquarium play at 9:30 Club on Sunday, June 26, and you can win tickets to see them with Parklife DC!
Ryan Gustafson leads The Dead Tongues in a performance at Jammin’ Java on May 7, 2022. (Photo by Casey Vock)
Considering the toll that life can take, credit should be given to the songwriters who make it their goal to survey and understand some of the most daunting emotional terrain. The best of them are lucky to stay the course at all, as so many aspiring artists are pushed off course not by their own inabilities or creative drought, but rather consumed or distracted by the infinite other forces defining an existence.
River Whyless perform at Union Stage on April 11, 2022. (Photo by Mark Caicedo)
For those of us who’ve seen our favorite bands multiple times (followers of the Grateful Dead and Phish come to mind), we’ve learned how to spot patterns and/or variations in the live performances of the songs, onstage banter, and the unspoken conversation between artist and audience. Although I have yet to follow River Whyless on tour, I have diligently observed their career for close to a decade and have seen the band perform nearly twenty times. This past Monday, River Whyless appeared at Union Stage showcasing songs from their new album, Monoflora, and I was just as captivated as the first time I saw them perform in 2013.
Watchhouse (Photo courtesy Shore Fire Media)
The debut album from Watchhouse, the duo of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz formerly known as Mandolin Orange, shot to No. 1 on Billboard’s Bluegrass Albums Chart last year. The harmonic duo drop by 9:30 Club for a show on Friday, April 15.
Jake Xerxes Fussell performs at Pie Shop in Washington DC on Jan. 23, 2022. (Photo by Casey Vock)
Authenticity might be the most essential quality for any musician, but that trait seems to be either intrinsic or elusive for humans in general. It’s presumable then that an artist who lives and breathes or — in some rare cases — was brought up on the music they eventually make is better equipped than most to capture listeners through recorded sound and live performance.
A wizardly fingerpicking guitarist and singer who grew up in a Columbus, Georgia, household steeped in traditional music and art, Jake Xerxes Fussell has managed over the course of four studio albums to inventively restore and refashion a wide cross section of folk music from different times and places in American history.
Jake Xerxes Fussell (Photo by Tom Rankin)
Singer, guitarist, and folk music interpreter Jake Xerxes Fussell releases his forthcoming album, Good and Green Again, on Jan. 21 via Paradise of Bachelors. He then performs at Pie Shop in DC on Sunday, Jan. 23.
Indigo De Souza (Photo by Charlie Boss)
Last year, Indigo De Souza released Any Shape You Take, her sophomore album, via Saddle Creek receiving acclaim from outlets such as Pitchfork, New York Times, NPR, Stereogum, The FADER, Consequence, Paste and more.
Indigo tours her new music at Black Cat on Wednesday, April 20.
Christian Sedelmyer, Josh Oliver, Andrew Marlin and Clint Mullican peform at City Winery in Washington DC on Dec. 10, 2021. (Photo by Casey Vock)
Not all solo endeavors are created equal. When an artist can be so prolific as to release two full-length albums in short time, each strong enough stand on its own as an instrumental work of beauty born out of pandemic desolation, it’s a clear sign of a human harvesting a trove of musical possibilities.
Andrew Marlin, the world-class mandolinist who co-leads the folk outfit Watchhouse with his wife and partner — guitarist and singer Emily Frantz — has already earned the respect of fans and fellow musicians far and wide for his achievements over the course of a decade with the band that earlier this year changed its name from Mandolin Orange.
Hiss Golden Messenger performs at 9:30 Club on Dec. 8, 2021. (Photos by David LaMason)
MC Taylor, the singer/songwriter at the helm of roots music outfit Hiss Golden Messenger, isn’t afraid to let his California influences show. Though he now lives in Durham, North Carolina, he began his musical career on the Pacific Coast with alt-country band The Court and Spark, and his music is deeply indebted to Laurel Canyon folk-rock and the psychedelic country-rock of the Grateful Dead.
The Grateful Dead never played DC’s 9:30 Club, but HGM’s recent performance there was perhaps a glimpse into what that might’ve been like. After an opening set by Philadelphia singer-songwriter Rosali, HGM took the stage for a set that ran far more than two hours, with plenty of long instrumental jams. They even closed the evening with a cover of the Dead’s “Bird Song.”