Tuesday, January 6, 2015

This is My Tree

I'm back in the saddle again, but it took me nearly eleven hours to get there.

Coming off of vacation, today's walk was the first one in over a week that involved shoes, much less banking and errands along the way. While laundry had been finished last night, today there was grocery shopping to do. I spent almost four hours on a writing assignment before stripping the Christmas tree bare, wrangling it through the window and tossing it to the sidewalk below (don't try this alone, kids). After cleaning house and paying bills, I finally settled down to read the last two days' worth of the Washington Post.

Then there was the downloading (or is it uploading?) of the 200 vacation pictures I took and the deletion of the hundred that were blurry, of the ground (I kept one foot shot for posterity) or redundant (now why would I take six of the exact same angle of the lighthouse?).

My world restored to its rightful order, at long last I was free to get cleaned up and go out for live music.

Local heroes Spacebomb Records were presenting Spanish singer-songwriter Alondra Bentley for my listening pleasure, preceded by socialization with whomever I might happen to find. Happily, I walked into the back room to find all kinds of familiar faces.

I kvetched with the sax player who hikes about the impending cold weather and how it doesn't stop us from being outside, just ensures that we dress properly for it. The guy who works at the National told me about the recent Lotus show where the band played till 2 a.m. and then hung around shooting the breeze until 5 a.m. The calendar editor and I bemoaned the public's lack of understanding of print deadlines. The New Year's Eve DJ told me about how successful his tail feather-shaking party had been.

Then with no fanfare, Alondra and her handsome jean jacket-clad musical partner took the stage. She was adorably dressed in a navy blue dress with matching trim at the neck and sleeve cuffs and looked as groovy as a happening model from the '60s.

They both took guitars in hand and proceeded to show us how it's done on the other side of the pond, with Spanish-sounding guitar work and a beautiful voice that sounded distinctly un-American, not just in its phrasing but in its delivery. Clearly its origins were not from these parts.

She began by smiling (and never stopped), saying that she'd never played here before but that she was already loving Richmond and its friendliness. "Everyone is so nice. Maybe we should move here. Should we?" We'd only heard a couple of songs and still everyone called out in the affirmative.

When they did a song from her album for kids, she clarified that it was for kids of all ages, two to 200 and did "Wake Up," which began with the lyric of a rooster crowing, although as she sang it, it was absent any cock, as in, "Coo-cadoodle-do."

Afterwards, a friend sitting nearby leaned over and observed, "It feels like we're in Soho in 1967." It was true, with her clear, dulcet tones, dark bangs and groovy dress, we could have been in a smoky basement bar snapping our fingers instead of clapping.

She said she had a lot of songs about family and did "Garden Room" about warning her Dad that she wanted to see the world. Another was about her "crazy" sister whose odd habits she catalogs safely "because she's over the pond and can't hear me."

At one point, she put her guitar down and brought out a maraca, saying it belonged to Pinson the Magic, a reference to Spacebomb's talented drummer. "So it's going to be special even though I don't really know how to play it."

Although she'd been born in England, her accent reflected that she'd lived in Spain since age five and her lyrics were full of imagery you don't hear much here, things such as fruit scones, chocolate boxes filled with pencils, long skirts for dancing and bourbon biscuits.

"You're my tree where the birds live," she sang. Songs were enhanced by her partner's harmonies and piano playing on the second half of them. His style was almost lounge-like, often running the keys as accompaniment to her trilling voice. "In My Garden" got one couple slow dancing, much to her delight.

She told us she'd arrived in Richmond on New Year's Day and spent the last two days recording. "There is nowhere else in the world where we could have made this album. It had to be here."

What's interesting about that, my friend and I decided, was that her sound was very much Spanish and coastal sounding with undertones of lounge, making us curious about how Spacebomb's trademark horn section and impressive percussion will add to that.

No doubt in the same mystical way that the Muscle Shoals Studio affected the sound of artists as diverse as Aretha Franklin, Cat Stevens and the Black Keys.

During one lively song, the bartender began shaking a cocktail in time with the song, causing the keyboard player to call, "Cool, man!" to him when they finished.

When they got to their last song, the applause was loud and long and nobody went anywhere, so I doubt I was the only one who wished they'd played a while longer.

Nobody made a move to leave, including Alondra, who accommodatingly sold albums and signed them for adoring fans while the rest of the crowd milled about socializing on a Monday night high after an amazing (free) show had dropped in our laps.

I heard about a friend's upcoming trip to D.C. to see the Reverend Horton Heat, while another told me about his new restaurant obsession before finally heading out through the clutch of people getting their drink on in the front room. It had been a stellar night of music and conversation.

Doesn't matter how long it's been. Soho or Richmond, certain things you fall back into as naturally as breathing.

For some of us, this is one of them.

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