From the front porches, alleys, and rivers of Richmond, Virginia, comes Andy Jenkins carrying a crisp, newly cut album, Sweet Bunch. Hatched in the tradition of Southern culture–unhurried in his art, unworried by external demands, yet weirdly ahead of the curve by the time he arrives–Andy is a distinctive and joyously idiosyncratic songwriting talent developed for years in obscurity. Sweet Bunch springs into the world fully-formed, the work of a confident, timeless as well as contemporary singer-songwriter, offering beautiful and basic melodies with lyrics exploring the fluidity between the banal and the sublime. His work feels natural, complete within itself, untrained musically but adherent to its own forms and intricate in its own ways. Spring peepers line the path; the author feeds her peacocks strutting among vines and ruins; a photographer waits for the right light and color in frame. Each song presents a rich, new tableau of sound, glowing worlds to discover, rooted in an unnamed sense of place.
Andy could have found no better seedbed for this sensibility to flower than Spacebomb, a label known for offering high musicianship outside of the predictabilities of New York, Nashville, and Los Angeles. Produced by Matthew E. White, Sweet Bunch was recorded in three magical days of flow-state, the drums, bass, keys, and guitars all live and nothing to regret. The source of this musical surety lies above all with Jenkins’ songwriting–natural and effortless as the glide of a swan or sailboat–matched in spirit and strength by the sweet bunch in the studio. The Spacebomb crew ran hard into midnight with a few ringers along for the ride, and a very full chorus of voices shining bright behind Andy’s relaxed, self-assured singing, gently insistent as it dips and soars at every measure. Contentment in life and patience with craft is announced, almost as credo, on the opening track “Hazel Woods”:
Man, I would love to finish the book but I still have pages and pages of lines. Time sends out a withering look, but I pay it no mind. God, it’s a drag to figure it out, but what else can I do? Nothing whatever, but to read for my pleasure, as the light passes through…
Jenkins sends his warm words buoyed on cool streams of melody, to tell the greater world that Virginia has become, once again, a musical frontier. He sits at a crossroads of modernism, sensitivity and decision, with the expansiveness and musical drawl of Big Star, the bounce of Warren Zevon, and the curly, perfectly-carved melodies of Kevin Ayers. His lyrics have a tendency to stick in the mind, not straightforward storytelling, but always delivering a kind of payoff or reward. Their surrealism, closer to the origin of that term, sees the world in dualities, layered images and dreams. On the topic of love, he is soul-bearing yet light, focused outward, singing conversationally as if from driver to passenger remarking on the passing views. In a way, all of his songs are outdoor songs. Each paints a wide and wild landscape, the mood of a sun setting on a damn good day spent among friends and favored creatures. Sitting high on the hog, like a bump on a log, getting lost in the goodness of the earth.