Valerie June, Charles Bradley, Ruby Boots, and More Photos of the Week
My head is still spinning and my emotions are still reeling from AmericanaFest – if you were there, you know what I mean – but I want to touch on just a couple of things before getting on to what’s been going on on elsewhere in roots music photography, especially west of the Mississippi, as well as featuring some late comers from Nashville.
First is the amazing Valerie June, with whom I had a nice chat on the red carpet at the Ryman, and her cover of Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” at The People Sing during AmericanaFest. Not only was her choice of material inspiring, her rendition stunned the crowd into dead silence as she contorted the nuances, the contradictions and pathos of that killer song. She asked me, “So when are you coming to see me?” I immediately said, “Next Friday, in Virginia.”
As many times as I have seen June perform, I had not caught her doing a full set with a full band. That deficiency was remedied last Friday night in Blacksburg, Virginia. Not just any band, but a band that included a Hammond B-3. That organ serves as an effective backdrop to the way that June not only uses her one-in-a-million voice, but also, significantly, the way she plays with time, and an acute awareness of what’s transpiring around her. Sometimes that awareness is of minutiae that otherwise goes unnoticed, unacknowledged, and unappreciated. Whether her songs come to her in dreams or open doors unentered, there is a spirituality, a sacredness to them.
That, and more, was readily apparent to a sold-out crowd at the Lyric in Blacksburg, VA, that was not only on the edge of their seats, but by the show’s end many were on their feet dancing, down front and in the aisles. You could feel the anticipation before every song. I spoke with folks who had come from as far as South Carolina to catch this show. June was at times introspective, other times dancing around the stage, switching among banjos and guitars, and sometimes resting on the mic stand like a torch singer; she was nothing less than spellbinding. Her performance caressed the audience, and we responded in kind, including some of the theater staff.
Bradley was a late bloomer. His substantive recording and performing careers were relatively brief, beginning in 2002, when, after hearing him as Black Velvet, Daptone Records released some singles. Then at the beginning of this decade, when an album was finally released, he really took off. I got to see him several times, and being old enough to have seen James Brown in his prime, I would tell folks that Bradley is the closest this generation will ever get to know what Brown was like. Not that he was an imitator, far from it. He embodied that sound and that presence whose pinnacle was Brown.
Bradley has been profiled in many publications, including this one. Here’s an ND interview from 2013.
He will be sorely missed. In the slideshow below you will see his many sides in seven photos by seven different ND photographers.
The more I think about Ruby Boots’ performance at Bloodshot’s Backyard Bash at the Groove, the more I am moved by it. As you may recall in last week’s column I noted that she was my “surprise” of last year’s fest, and I was not about to miss what was (I think) her lone scheduled set this year. But earlier in the day, I ran into her at A Taste of Australia. We chatted about what’s happened during the past year, and her new record that comes out on Bloodshot in February.
Then, just a few hours later, her set at the Groove was outstanding. Her new songs are stronger, tighter, more incisive, and downright kick-ass. I cannot wait for that album. Plus, to top her set off, she did what every photographer loves: In the middle of a song, she spied me in the audience, turned, and gave me a killer smile. I got the shot. While Rolling Stone called her one of the 20 best things they saw that week, I’ll go further – she was one of my half dozen.
More Photos of the Week
Two of your favorite photographers have been on a tear lately, C. Elliott and Peter Dervin. Dervin’s shots of Lillie Mae are wonderful. And, as per fellow photograpgher Chad Cochran, she is as nice and approachable as they come. I also want to thank her sister, Martha Spencer, for introducing me to her music.
Elliott’s photos continue to introduce me, and I hope you too, to many new artists. This time it’s Sawyer Fredericks, Gabriel Wolfchild, Haley Johnson, and Lee Fields. She also caught up David Bromberg, who is still hitting it out of the park. Has it really been 48 years since I first saw him and became a devotee? He sounds as fresh and stimulating as ever. And Beth Hart’s photo of a heart-wrenching artist is sublime.
Kirk Stauffer, as with Dervin, was at Bumbershoot, and they post got shots of Shook Twins. It’s always nice to see two views of the same artists. We’ve also got two photos of the Dave Rawlings Machine by Michael Bialas from the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival; North Carolina’s Todd Gunsher’s pic of Eilen Jewell (you’ll see more from Gunsher next week in his coverage of IBMA’s World of Bluegrass); and Boom Baker caught Amy Helm and her band with the fabulous Cindy Cashdollar.
Additionally, a few photos from AmericaFest that were posted too late to make it into last week’s column. First, four by ND contributor Chris Griffy: Wildwood Kin, Colin Hay, Yola Carter, and All Our Exes Live in Texas, all of whom were included in his excellent AXS article on the 10 best performances of the fest. AMA photogragher Brenda Rosser shares photos of Kasey Chambers tearing down the house with “Ain’t No Little Girl” from her midnight set at the Winery. (I got home from that one at 2 a.m.) Finally, and certainly far from least, the most invigorating and challenging photographer working in the Midwest, Chad Cochran. He shares his photos of the Mavericks, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Deer Tick, and Sam Outlaw.
Again, thanks to all of them for sharing their work with us. Scroll through their photos, which say more than I ever could. As I put the photos together, I was reminded of how I continue to be awed by their work.