Artists and authors, poets and painters, songwriters and sculptors, as long as humans have been creative they have tried to capture the vast, varied wonder of the sky. The way it changes with the day, the array of colours and shapes it produces, the way it can seem so unfathomably large one moment and so claustrophobic and close the next.
Neil Young looked up to the sky, and saw his own struggles for happiness and glory reflected in the gloomy vision of, “the sky about to rain.” while Ray Davies questioned whether when we look up to the sky, does it look back down upon, does the big sky look, “down on all the people who think they got problems” and find itself, “too big to sympathise.” When Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy needed some sort of comfort, he found the dark sky only matched his melancholy, and glibly questioned, “with a sky blue sky, this rotten time, wouldn’t seem to bad to me now.”
Whether feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the night sky, inspired by the hues of a sunset or a dense blanket of black cloud, we can’t help but be effected by the sky and its wonderful, limitless potential.
It would be fair to say that until recent years, Richmond, Virginia wasn’t necessarily somewhere the world thought of as a hot bed for intriguing music. That all changed with the birth and subsequent success of Spacebomb Records. The latest offering from the label/recording studio/house-band that has given the world Matthew E.White and Natalie Prass, came last week with the release of Sweet Bunch, the second album by Richmond’s own Andy Jenkins.
Produced by Matthew E.White alongside Megafaun member and prolific producer, Phil Cook, Sweet Bunch was recorded in just three, very long, days. Much of the music was recorded live, Andy showing great faith in the musicians he had alongside him, as well as the strength of the songs he had written through many years of working hard in relative musical obscurity. The resultant record is tinged in retro influences and classical songwriting, yet with Andy’s vocal, a sonic doppelgänger of Kevin Morby and the ambitious Americana-meets-60’s pop sound, it’s also a record that sounds oddly on trend with the alternative scene of 2018.
There’s highlights throughout; the piano-led majesty of Genuine Heart, the sultry, stomp of Curve Of Love, the stunning, euphoric sing-along of Get Together. It is a record that’s a tribute to the care that’s gone into it, from the songwriting through to the production, you feel this is exactly the record Andy Jenkins wanted to make, and that’s a special sort of triumph for any musician.
Today, Andy has taken some time out to make us a mixtape themed around one of his biggest inspirations, The Sky. Listen to the mix which features the likes of Hand Habits, Al Green and Gábor Szabó below.
1. Gábor Szabó – Lady In The Moon
Love a slow burn. Such a groove (eventually) and a sense of dynamics and drama, space and texture. Szabó’s taste and tone is undeniable. I bought this cd from Amoeba Music in Hollywood, trying to save money, I only got a couple things, but then I stayed too long in the store and got a parking ticket too.
2. Candy McKenzie – Sky At Night
McKenzie was a background singer from London who flew to Jamaica to make a record with Lee Scratch Perry at Black Ark in 1977. It was supposed to be her big break and come out through Island, but got shelved. I love the distinct mood it creates, the passion in her voice, the production is fairly dense, but casual too.
3. Judee Sill – Things Are Looking Up
Take the title literally. This track is from her unfinished third album, a group of demos that Jim O’Rourke ended up mixing decades after her death. It’s a wry, upbeat number, but there’s still that melancholy streak in the very nature of her voice. It’s moving even when she’s cracking wise. Where would we be without Judee?
4. Al Green – Up Above My Head
A riff on the classic Sister Rosetta Tharpe gospel number, turning it into a low-key groover. It didn’t make the cut from the I’m Still In Love With You session, but it’s still such a quality track. That Hi Records Willie Mitchell/Al Green run is so consistently good.
5. The Highest Order – Keep a Window Open
This one is such a ripper. The lyrical routing is thoughtfully paced and Simone Schmidt’s voice is wild and beautiful, a modern version of that thing where Canadians do country rock in a zone all their own. Highest order indeed.
6. John Prine – Saddle In the Rain
“Like a bird in a foreign sky
Couldn’t even say goodbye”
Common Sense is my favorite Prine record, it just hit me at the right time in my life, at the moment, it was what I needed lyrically and I was also ready for it style-wise. It’s funny how that works, how those points can move. Guess there’s a Prine for every time.
7. Hand Habits – Yr Heart
“And I thought I saw a falling star go flying past the treeline and start a fire in my backyard.” Here’s an incredible single Meg Duffy/Hand Habits put out last year. A clear, considered voice. The arrangement sounds so gentle, but with a great reserve of strength.
8. Aster Aweke – Musica
Love this synth delay, I don’t have a translation for the Amharic, so no “sky” reference, but the whole track floats in my mind, a gorgeous, drifting thing. It also sounds like one of those situations where digitizing a cassette tape created an added texture/dimension. Aster Aweke is still performing, lives in Washington D.C. where there’s a strong Ethiopian diaspora.
9. RAMZI – Crépuscule
Sky at night. I appreciate when an artist can work in sound art/digital collage mode but still convey an emotional arc. On this track Phoebé Guillemot strips back the rhythmic elements and leaves pure atmosphere, but it moves too.
10. Bill Orcutt – Somewhere Over the Rainbow (live)
A sublime cover of a sublime song, riding the line in and out of melody and thoughtful chaos–only line worth riding in my opinion. Orcutt was in the noise outfit Harry Pussy and has cut a new, intentional path as a solo guitarist for about a decade now. Saw him do this one in NYC a few years ago and teared up a bit, that’s what the moment was.
Sweet Bunch is out June 15th via Spacebomb Records. Click HERE for more information on And Jenkins.