Author Archives: Leah Henry

These United States depart The District as The Cassettes reunite

Say your goodbyes to the likable local band members of These United States: Jesse Elliott, J. Tom Hnatow, Colin Kellogg, Justin Craig, and Robby Cosenza.

These United States bids adieu to The District, their musical birthplace. But please don’t despair; they will continue touring across the country making full-bodied East Coast folk rock together, no matter where they wind up.

For untapped fans, or for those new to the area:

Over the last three years, These United States has played over six hundred shows and released four albums, and their style of folk rock and roll has gained the support of NPR’s All Things ConsideredWorld Cafe, Mountain StageSpinPasteFilterNY TimesVillage Voice, and countless other reputable music experts.

Join them at Black Cat this Saturday, September 10th, for a proper sendoff.

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TVD Ticket Giveaway: David Wax Museum at 9:30 Club, 9/14

David Wax Museum was declared “The breakout act at the Newport Folk Fest last year” by Paste. They solidified their reputation this year and have tour dates scheduled all the way out to March 2012! DWM are hot; not like a fleeting flash or a passing trend, they embrace enduring and influential styles of Latin America, weaving them flawlessly into classic folk.

Rob Kirkpatrick from Huffington Post dubbed them The Best Band You Might Not Know, and after hearing them live was

…simultaneously excited to hear a great act on the verge of blowing up while lamenting that the band is destined for mainstream audiences and bigger venues from here on out. It’s bound to happen for the band. They’re that good. It’ll be our loss and our gain.

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TVD’s Package Deal: Digitalism—I love these dudes

After Digitalism’s I Love You, Dude record release this year, I was kindly invited by the German duo to hear them live and “bust a move” at the 9:30 Club Friday night during the HARD Summer Tour (as mentioned in my previous post). Being the most popular act on this tour, Digitalism has their recent single “2 Hearts” featured in the promotional video for the HARD Summer Tour.

I typically lean toward “instruments,” but isn’t music, especially live music, about breaking with convention? Friday night, I left my folk bias behind and arrived early to “get the lay of the land.” And as I stood in a freezing cold, nearly empty club I felt intimidated and nervous. What would fill this space; who would fill this space; how could they fill this space!? So, like we do when the show hasn’t begun, we drink!

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Top 7 Reasons Newport Folk Festival Sold Out (In Advance) This Year:

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Newport Folk Festival at Fort Adams State Park in Newport, Rhode Island. These are the reasons you should have been right there with me:

1. Carolina Chocolate Drops

I cannot believe I have not written them up sooner, but what better time than now! Carolina Chocolate Drops is the absolute number one reason to regret not having attended Newport Folk Festival. Get hooked on them, it will only take one listen to Rhiannon Giddens’ vocals and fiddle, Dom Flemons banjo, passion, and history lessons banter, and Hubby Jenkins’ guitar and bones to fall inlove. This trio (plus 2011 addition, beat boxer Adam Matta) mingles old picking, jugs, and rhythm and blues; inspired by legendary southern fiddlers, CCD puts a new face on “black string music.”

Rhiannon Giddens sang old-time ballads and R&B covers with soulful nods to female jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone. (Being from the Piedmont area myself, I felt they did the foothills some serious musical justice with their sound.) Their creativity in mixing the older classics with their current influences is their greatest asset, making them one of the most fun and inspiring acts to watch.

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TVD Package Deal: The Heartless Bastards with Vandaveer at IOTA, 7/22

The Heartless Bastards—aren’t.

They are rock n roll, the kind you miss before they’re gone. I am already reaching for the car radio as “Out at Sea” fades. Immediately I want to go back, go back and repeat that catchy riff, the charm of a full female lead, the tormented call of Erika Wennerstrom. These intoxicating psychedelic garage rockers played one of many acoustic tour dates Friday, July 22nd, at IOTA.

Vandaveer was a 9am addition to the show. “I received a text at 9am from IOTA wondering if I could open for The Heartless Bastards tonight. My reply, ‘yes!’” says Vandaveer, his fingers moving nimbly across his guitar, well rested after three weeks since his last live gig.

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TVD Package Deal: Cass McCombs at the Black Cat, 7/15


Cass McCombs and his band, back lit by a sophisticated ‘Lite-Brite,’ opened with “Buried Alive” from his newly released album Wit’s End, a “cheerful” track where you’re unsure whether he is deep in the ground or profoundly depressed.

“Waking up to the breath of the ore, in the sea of Black/ If you cut a worm in two the other half will grow black /If I’m alive or dead I don’t really care, as long as my Soul’s intact/ Buried Alive/Stinking corpse, I smell but cannot see, you hateful neighbor! /Pride, monomania, everything from Earth, topaz vapor/ Hi-chloridized polyethylene resin lacquered newspaper/ buried alive/maybe I’m wrong/ maybe I’m waking for the day…”

I burrowed through the crowd to the platform and awaited the group-wallowing which I had looked forward to all week. Naturally, I did not expect to have my mood instantly elevated by Cass McCombs. He sings about death and abandoned toys.

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TVD Ticket Giveaway: Cass McCombs, 7/15 at Black Cat

Cass McCombs, a dour, gifted, California born singer songwriter, cultivated his wandering sound (garage-folk, dollop of alt-country, as eclectic as Beck) living at campsites, on couches, and in cars from Northern California to Baltimore, Maryland. His lyrics weigh heavy but his delivery lightens the load. One of my favorites:

“Cast out of eden/tricked by a snake/brother killing brother/the mighty flood’s wake/glad I was not among/those kept off that boat/boy, they was much badder times/when the bible was wrote/then come slavery/then come curse/then come death-cloud/for the first birth/glad I was not living/I don’t mean to gloat/but boy! They was much badder times/when the bible was wrote…”

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TVD Package Deal: Alice Smith Revisited

Dear TVD readers,

I would like to apologize for the fanatical gushing to follow.

I believe this to be my sixth Alice Smith experience, and the second time at Philadelphia’s Tin Angel, last Saturday, June 25th.

That may seem like a high number, to those who’ve never heard her live, but each time she brings a soulful potent voice, new creative songwriting, and a lot of personality. There was no opener (bless you Tin Angel); she sang the 8pm slot, and was welcomed by loyal, patient, and adoring Philly fans.

It all began, for me, in 2008 at a half-empty Black Cat, where she started off slow, full band, fighting to win the audience over with her voice. I listened, glued to the checkered floor with tears streaming down my face. One month later, I heard her at a sold-out 9:30 Club with screaming fans, Res as her opener, and plenty of people curious to know more about “that girl who sang that song from The L-Word” [“Dream”].

I then saw her at Joe’s Pub in New York. You’ve seen all the taped live performances on Youtube, you know that venue—it was intimate, genre-bending, and exciting. I heard her in Philadelphia in 2010 at Tin Angel, small, narrow, and honestly, I came away disappointed; she didn’t blow me down the hall, her piano player did not accompany her properly, and I thought maybe I’d hit “fan-fatigue.”

Fortunately on my last encounter, one year ago, at BB Kings, I regained my wits; she cleared my mind with “Break,” jump-started my heart with “So Bad,” and subsequently broke it [my heart] with “Goody.” Alice came out in a skin-tight black dress, even though she was terrifically pregnant (which, at first, took the men seated at the surrounding tables by surprise—but, come on, they’re shallow). As usual she was stunning, and she sang. the. walls. apart.

During that performance she would catch a glimpse of her silhouette on the rear curtain and laugh at her pregnant belly. With increasingly impressive stage presence and “at home” comfort with the crowd, she has really grown since Black Cat. I have enjoyed watching her change, and although she would not give out any more information about the baby, she did mention the album, just once. A member of the crowd yelled “When is the second album dropping!?” She paused, and with a sassy, defiant look she replied, “Call Sony!” I remember thinking that night, “If I don’t receive this album soon, I plan to take action, drastic action. I know all of the songs by heart. I need to be able to access them all the time, any time.”

The future is here.

After her 2006 release of For Lovers, Dreamers & Me (that was five years ago), Alice Smith has finally freed herself from that label and her performance at Tin Angel Saturday night was overflowing with fresh music, hopeful energy, and a charismatic stage presence. Alice seems determined to finish her album in the coming months and start touring again. I would like to go ahead and call dibs, and wish Alice Smith a great deal of success. Her talent has been “off the shelves” for too long!

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TVD Live Tease: Centro-Matic with Sarah Jaffe at DC9, Sunday 6/26

Creative singer-lyricist Will Johnson fronts Centro-Matic, a guitar-driven, and lyrically-supported alternative rock-country band from Texas. He is accompanied by Matt Pence (Percussion), Scott Danbom (Piano, Violin, Bass, Vocals), and Mark Hedman (Bass, Guitar). They’ve been producing solid music for over fifteen years and continue to tirelessly work, create, and tour.

“The guitars really do rock, but it’s Johnson’s lyricism that counts — these guys recall everyone from the Drive-By Truckers to The Wrens and Big Star. Rarely have rough edges been put to such subtle use.”—Nashville Scene

They are joined by the much buzzed-about twenty-five year old singer-songwriter Sarah Jaffe, who began touring with the Old 97’s at the end of May only to then hop on tour with Centro-Matic in Nashville last Wednesday.

Suburban Nature, Sarah Jaffe’s full-length debut, announces the Denton, Texas-based musician’s arrival as a force on the folk-pop scene in a big way, offering up 13 gems that could make even a hardened critic start throwing around terms like the next big thing.”—American Songwriter

I mean, there’s been enough buzz but not enough opportunity to see both Centro-Matic and Sarah Jaffe, so join me at DC9 this Sunday… Hear what all the talk’s about.

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TVD Live: Jeremy Messersmith at DC9, 6/19

Sunday night, Jeremy Messersmith, Minnesota-based singer-songwriter, could not have been welcomed by a warmer crowd. Upstairs at DC9 they cheered every first note, sang along with “Virginia” that Jeremy admitted he’d been “waiting all tour to get here and play, and someone yelled it out so I used it as an excuse!” The band crooned and harmonized, while the fans sustained knee-aches from twisting, bopping, and bouncing.

Prior to the performance, Messersmith was kind enough to fill TVD in on his existential-crisis album The Reluctant Graveyard, what makes him a “happy dude,” and his Minnesotan “baptism by snow.”

How’s the tour going (that van full of friends hanging in there?), Midwest then down the Eastern coast and back? Madison, Chicago, and you played with Cave Singers in Cleveland, how was that? (They toured with Fleet Foxes for a bit, pretty interesting sound.)

This tour is by far the best one I’ve done. The band is sounding great, and the van rides are SO much more enjoyable with a group of friends. We haven’t started hurling whiskey bottles at each other yet, so I think we’re okay. We actually didn’t get to hear Cave Singers in Cleveland as one of their members ended up being admitted to the hospital. I hope he’s doing okay.

Most recently, I have been listening to “A Girl, a Boy, and a Graveyard,” “Organ Donor” and “John the Determinist” from The Reluctant Graveyard. (Alright, repeatedly, and not just those tracks.) From where do all of these ideas stem?

I think those songs are semi-biographical and are the fallout from an existential crisis—basically losing a rigid belief system and asking what the point of it all is. “John the Determinist” is a statement on the futility of determinism I guess. Even if everything we do in our whole lives has been predetermined from the birth of the universe and free will doesn’t exist, it really doesn’t change much. For some reason, I thought that was a funny and reassuring idea.

“I don’t know how I’m s’pose to feel, my body’s cold, my guts are twisted steel” and “All we are is ticks and tocks, seconds in a pocket watch”—I really like that line. And, thank you! It’s refreshing to hear a man sing. You know what I mean, “Troubadours of Folk,” i.e., Donovan, Tim Buckley, Loudon Wainwright III, Kingston Trio. Did that ’50s/’60s singing inspire/influence you?

Absolutely. I’d been listening to a lot of Donovan and Sinatra oddly enough. Oh, Van Morrison too. If you want to learn how to sing, you could do a lot worse than trying to emulate those guys.

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