There are many summer days I remember “helping” my mom clean the house as a child. We’d break out all the brooms and mops, pop Chaka Khan into the stereo system and go to town: her on the floors and me on the “stage,” a sitting room joined to a sunken living room through which my folks were kind enough to humor my performances.
My dad would arrive home from an exhausting day at work, fresh Miller Lite in hand from the cooler in the bed of his pickup, change the tunes to Marvin Gaye and start grilling. We lived on an almost empty creek off the Trent River in New Bern and Marvin’s voice would echo up and down water: “Brother, brother, brother / There’s far too many of you dying…”
I was blessed to come from a musical family. A musical family that could hardly carry a tune (much less play an instrument), but one that listened to it and sang it, LOUDLY, and appreciated the hell out of what it gave us. Music was a tradition and a ritual: we had a song for cleaning (“I’m Every Woman”), for cooking (“What’s Going On?”), for road trips (“How Deep Is Your Love”), for dancing (“Stop! In the Name of Love”), for riding with the sunroof open (“Thriller”), for belting out (“Said I loved You… but I Lied”) and for beaching (“A Horse With No Name”). I wasn’t very old when I figured out its place in our lives. Music was part of our day-to-day rituals, part of our fabric. It gave our days meaning, purpose, and routine. It also gave us a way to escape from it all.
I’ve been using live music in the Triangle as a way to escape from “it all” for years. On a fall night in 2010, after a particularly magical GAYNGS show at Cat’s Cradle, I walked across the street to The Station for a nightcap. Justin, Brad, Phil, Ivan, Mike, Ryan - almost two dozen of them - sauntered in and gathered around an unassuming, almost decrepit, corner piano and started singing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” They sang it, in that tiny, nearly empty space, like it was the last song they were ever going to sing. They sang because they loved creating with each other, maybe even more than they loved the song. Perhaps this isn’t a novel occurrence, but it struck me as special. Ultimately, all roads for these musicians led back to one place: making good music with good people. That was one of those distinct moments in which I felt proud and lucky to live in a place like North Carolina, a state with such a rich musical heritage.
Music teaches us something about ourselves and connects us with others. It resonates deep within in us; it’s a neuron to the collective consciousness. Music is transcendent, and in that spirit, on this 4th hump day of spring, I present to you Bit & Grain’s Beat & Groove: The Spring 2015 Edition. Now, walk outside and close your eyes. Imagine, wherever you are, that it’s Friday and that there’s a salty breeze sweeping across your skin. There’s one bridge standing between you and a sandy beach. Hit play and immerse yourself in the sounds of Spring from a few of our favorite North Carolina artists.
Listen below or click here to listen in Spotify App and follow the playlist.
NOTE: Some songs may contain explicit language.
T0W3RS - “Cups”
From the album Tl; dr, 2014
With his effervescent synth sounds and raw percussion instrumentals, T0W3RS frontman, Dereck Torres, can transport you almost anywhere. Once a 3-man (and woman) band, it’s just Torres creating the songs now, with the occasional 8-man backup at live shows. Catch him Saturday, April 25, at King’s Barcade in Raleigh. According to his Facebook page, it’ll be the last show for awhile while he works on new material.
Hiss Golden Messenger - “Saturday Song”
From the album Lateness of Dancers, 2014
Hiss Golden Messenger’s Mike Taylor is one of several students of The South included on our playlist. He’s got a Masters degree in Folklore from UNC and wrote a thesis entitled "God almighty, it's a good feeling: low riding as an experience." Given his background, it’s not surprising that this album title comes from a Eudora Welty story. Mike, we’ve heard you like your solitude, but the next time you’re in the mood to lose yourself on a Saturday, give us a call. I think we could hang. Catch Hiss Golden Messenger in concert this Friday, April 17, at the Haw River Ballroom.
Lost In The Trees - “Past Life”
From the album Past Life, 2013
Lost In The Trees is one of the more popular bands to develop out of the North Carolina music scene in the last decade, so we were heartbroken when we heard the orchestral indie rock band played their last show earlier this year. Brainchild of NC native Ari Picker, a classically trained musician at the Berklee College of Music, the band has seen a number of formations over the years. Since LITT ended, Picker has been exploring a more classical, out-of-the-limelight approach to music making with the Lion and the Lamb which explores the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke.
Sylvan Esso - “Dress”
From the album Sylvan Esso, 2014
Amelia Meath and Nick Sandborn (formerly of Mountain Man and Megafaun, respectively), put out their first record as Sylvan Esso last year. Their self-titled debut is the perfect soundtrack to a sunny Saturday. If you missed their homecoming show at the Carrboro Town Commons a few weeks ago, you’re out of luck for seeing them in NC for a little while. We’ve heard they’re headed back to the studio when they finish up their North American tour this summer. Meanwhile, can you tell us where you got those shoes, Amelia?
King Mez - “Demo”
From the album Demo: Music Inspired by the Documentary, 2013
In recent years, King Mez has been at the forefront of a growing hip-hop music scene in the Capital City. By all accounts, he has overcome a rough upbringing in Southeast Raleigh, helping to define the mushrooming hip-hop scene in NC and rising to the cusp of acclaim extending beyond the Triangle. We are big fans of Long Live The King, which he released a year ago and unfortunately isn’t on Spotify (download for free here). His lyrics tackle important issues facing the African American community and his music videos guide us through his neighborhood and downtown Raleigh. We’re patiently waiting for Sir Mezington Rex’s next big move.
Mipso - “Carolina Calling”
From the album Dark Holler Pop, 2013
Native North Carolinians and self-described renegade traditionalists, Mipso is touring the country molding and reinvisioning classic Appalachian influences. Formed in Chapel Hill in 2010, Mipso has created a new place for themselves among traditional bluegrass, and it sounds beautiful. They’ve got several shows coming up throughout the state; check them out Thursday, April 16, at King’s Barcade.
Megafaun - “Get Right”
From the album Megafaun, 2011
Megafaun is a Durham based experimental/psychedelic folk band, consisting of Phil Cook, Brad Cook, Joe Westerlund and sometimes Nick Sandborn (also of Sylvan Esso, #4 on our list). They’ve been at the forefront of the Triangle music scene since they first emerged as DeYarmond Edison with Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon circa 2002. They haven’t released an album as Megafaun since 2011, but our playlist wouldn’t be complete without them. Whenever we see these guys and their friends live, we’re consistently surprised and delighted. Their chemistry on stage is organic and honest resulting in a beautiful ecstasy. Since their last record, they’ve been laying low around the Triangle, playing local haunts with talented friends, like Loamlands, Hammer No More the Fingers, and old pal Justin Vernon. Phil and Brad will be on tour over the next few weeks with Hiss Golden Messenger (#2 on our list).
Kooley High - “Days Passed Me By”
From the album Presents… David Thompson, 2011
This hip hop group has been making music and performing together since early 2007 when they were students together at NC State. The group boasts two producers (Foolery and The Sinopsis), three emcees (Tab-One, Rapsody and Charlie Smarts) and one DJ (Ill Digitz); together they’ve produced beats from the hyper-local, like “Dear Raleigh,” to the universal like “Days Passed Me By” featured on our list. Catch them this Friday, April 17, at King’s Barcade and look out for their forthcoming album Never Come Down.
Floating Action - “Unrevenged”
From the album Body Questions, 2014
Floating Action’s style is anything but typical. Recording out of Black Mountain, Seth Kaufmann strives to recreate the magic and inspiration of his town’s artistic legacy in his music. He’s worked with big names, like Jim James of My Morning Jacket and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. Floating Action’s style is wonderfully eclectic but we’ll let the music speak for itself.
Loamlands - “Another Reason”
From the EP Some Kind of Light, 2013
We found out last weekend that Loamlands just finished recording a new album, and we couldn’t be more excited. It will be Kym Register and Will Hackney’s second album together, though the duo has collaborated for years, rethinking traditional southern sounds in a modern way. Catch these two at Counter Culture’s 20th Anniversary on Saturday, April 18, in Durham.
Porter Robinson - “Sad Machine”
From the album Worlds, 2014
From what we know about Porter Robinson, he seems like your average kid. But with over 7 million listens to this track on Spotify, he’s anything but. He drew his early inspiration from video games, namely Dance Dance Revolution, and started producing beats at age 13. Born and raised in Chapel Hill, he still enjoys his down time with his family in the Old North State when he’s not touring, according to this interview.
J. Cole - “Apparently”
From the album 2014 Forest Hills Drive, 2014
“Think back to Forest Hills, no perfect home / But the only thing like home I've ever known / Until they snatched it from my mama / And foreclosed her on the loan,” J. Cole sings in an ode to his hometown and the house he grew up in at 2014 Forest Hills Drive in Fayetteville. In an NPR Interview in December in 2014, Cole talks about buying the home back and how it’s the first home he’s ever owned. He’s now letting single mothers live nearly rent free for two years at a time, a project of philanthropy orchestrated through his Dreamville Foundation. Catch him live in his hometown at the Crown Center with Big Sean, YG and Jeremih on August 29 or in Charlotte August 12 at the PNC Music Pavillion.
Jake Xerxes Fussell - “Ragy Levy”
From the album Jake Xerxes Fussell, 2015
Jake Xerxes Fussell is a Georgia born, Durham based folk singer and bluesman. Jake was led to music byway of his father, a folklorist and photographer, who dedicated his career to documenting music traditions of The South. Jake, too, became a student of The South, earning a Masters in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi. A formidable picker, Jake recorded his self-titled debut album with Paradise of Bachelors, a label dedicated to celebrating, in particular, music of the American South. Catch him with pal, William Tyler, at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro on April 23.
Town Mountain - "I'm On Fire"
From the album Heroes and Heretics, 2008
Town Mountain, of Asheville, is the most traditional bluegrass band on our playlist. Drawing inspiration from the first generation of bluegrass pioneers, these guys have a bit of a rough edge to which we’re drawn. Town Mountain was certainly "on fire" at 2013 International Bluegrass Music Association Awards (held in Raleigh): they took home prizes for Band of the Year and Vocalist of the Year. Check them out this Saturday, April 18, when they headline Cuegrass.
The Real Laww - “D.U.R.M.” feat. Professor Toon
From the EP You Know the Name/End the Beginning, 2013
The Real Laww claims he’s your “friendly neighborhood super artist,” and he’s right. More than a rapper, he’s an entrepreneur, producer, philanthropist and a marine. After returning from a tour in Afghanistan 2011, he won the Carolina Music Award for Best Male Hip Hop artist in 2013, and in 2012 for Video of the Year. He’s hosted benefit concerts for the Wounded Warriors Project and Durham Rescue Mission. Perhaps most significantly, he’s the founding CEO of the Durham Hip Hop Summit, an annual festival drawing bright new talents to Durham.
Mount Moriah - “White Sands”
From the album Miracle Temple, 2013
This Durham/Chapel Hill group, consisting of Heather McEntire, Jenks Miller and Casey Toll, observes and explores the nuanced South through storytelling on their last record. In a Paste Magazine interview, McEntire states, “The South is such a complex place. Southern music is complex. The way the two kind of intersect is something I think we find interesting and as Southerners it’s something we’re trying to explore, but not on a super-conscious level. I think a lot of it just kind of comes naturally. Because for me, growing up in a church, hymns were how I learned to harmonize and that’s how I learned about melody, although for a long time I resented it and tried to not see it as a part of me, tried to kind of escape it. But I didn’t go to music school; I wasn’t a music theorist or anything in school, so that’s kind of the basis for my songwriting.” According to their Facebook page, they’ve just finished recording a new album set to be released very soon.
Nuclear Honey - “Long Time Comin”
From the album Nobody Panic, 2013
In “Long Time Comin,” Gray Henderson, Nuclear Honey’s lead singer/guitarist, writes about escaping the pressures that keep you in the job or life that doesn’t make you feel alive and about taking that leap of faith to pursue something for which you’re passionate about or destined. That’s something we can get into here at Bit + Grain. Joined by Kenan Jernigan (drums) and Mark Voler (bass), this trio of Raleigh natives have been playing music consistently together for over a decade. You can catch them at their upcoming shows in Boone (The Local, April 18), Kinston (The Red Room, April 24) or in Raleigh (4PM at Brewgaloo’s Capital Stage, April 25).
The Avett Brothers - “Left on Laura, Left on Lisa”
From the album Four Thieves Gone, 2006
The Avett Brothers are a North Carolina folk staple. Hailing from Concord, the band’s made up of Scott and Seth Avett, Bob Crawford and Joe Kwon. We love “Left on Laura, Left on Lisa” because it always evokes the sweet breath of spring. You can’t go wrong with anything from the Avetts.
Nina Simone - “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”
From the album The Very Best of Nina Simone 1967-1972 - Sugar In My Bowl, 1998
A High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone, was much more than simply a singer, songwriter, pianist or performer - she was a figure of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. According to The New Yorker, “her repertoire of jazz and folk and show tunes, often played with a classical touch, made her impossible to clarify.” Born and raised in Tryon (Polk County), Nina sang out against racism with songs like “Mississippi Goddam,” which she recorded and released shortly after the the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama. Protest became a part of her performances, though she resonated with a more militaristic black power movement rather than that of MLK, Jr. Racism wasn’t the only thing Simone battled in her lifetime: she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the late 1980’s. Last weekend, What Happened, Miss Simone? was screened and well-received at Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham. Nina, a, more controversial biopic starring Zoe Saldana as Simone debuts this year.