In a small-town South of Austin, Texas vocalist and songwriter Molly Burch is relaxing in her sunny country home. The 27-year-old is enjoying the calm before the storm that will kick start when her much anticipated sophomore album First Flower hits the public. The Los Angeles native has found tranquility in the outskirts of Texas, appreciating time on the front porch as cicadas sing in the distance behind her.
Burch burst onto the music scene in 2017 with her debut album Please Be Mine, a ten-track ode to unrequited romance that she wrote after studying Jazz Vocal Performance at the University of North Carolina in Asheville. Please Be Mine earned praise from critics for her smoky, effortless vocals and bleeding-heart lyrics.
“I was really blown away with how many people told me that the music has helped them through their own break-up,” she says of Please Be Mine. “I was just so moved by that. I never expectedit. I was aware that people were actually listening to my music and having a positive experience,so [with the next album] I wanted to reveal my own struggles with fear and anxiety.”
After a year of touring Please Be Mine all over North America, Europe and the UK, Burch returned to Texas to decompress. All of a sudden, she was devoid of stimulation with nothing but time on her hands.
“I was scared of not being able to write a great follow-up album,” Burch admits. “I was in thatstate, but I had so much time that slowly I was able to get some music out of myself. I would force myself to write every day. I gave myself a regiment. Once I got a few songs, then I had theconfidence to keep going.”
Burch bounced her ideas off her bandmate and boyfriend Dailey Toliver who would contribute guitar parts and orchestration suggestions. The hurricanes kept them locked at home, where they forced themselves to record demos and pump out as much material as possible. Slowly, the album took shape and First Flower became real. When it came time to record, Burch chose to work with Erik Wofford at Cacophony Recorders in Austin.
First Flower is a walk-through Burch’s most intimate thoughts. Unlike Please Be Mine, which focused on the contentious depression of heartbreak, First Flower explores broken friendships, her relationship to her sister, and more importantly, how Burch learned to fight overwhelming anxiety. Burch is a soft-spoken, careful person who shoves her nervousness away on a daily basis.
“I feel like people don’t see me as a nervous person,” Burch says. “They don’t realize hownervous I am. I am good at fighting past my inner anxieties. I struggle with the anticipation ofexperiences.”
First Flower is a bright, beautiful album peppered with moments of triumph. Burch’s voice is asstrong and dexterous as ever, displaying her incredible range and professionalism as a vocalist.Opening track “Candy” is a swinging, playful hit, while “Wild” deals with pushing away fear. Songs like “Next to Me” and “Dangerous Place” examine failure and distance, and the title track “First Flower” is classic Burch, a simple love song that makes your skin raise with goosebumpswhen she breaks into the chorus. But the album’s true stand-out is “To The Boys”, a courageous,sassy fuck-you to her own self-deprecation where she learns to love all the things she hated about herself. “I don’t need to scream to get my point across/I don’t need to yell to know that I’m the boss,” she coos over a sparse guitar riff. “I’ve always been told my whole life to speak up,” explains Burch. “I needed to embrace that and not care what people think.”
The album closes with “Every Little Thing”, a haunting, airy ballad that sounds like somethingJudy Garland would have sang while drowning her pain in pills and alcohol. First Flower is a shapely sonic stage to let Burch shine on. The composition and production carefully constructed to compliment and not over power.
“I do not have the answers by any means, but I wanted to talk about those imperfections,” says Burch. “I wouldn’t want someone who listens to my music to think that I have it all figured out. Idon’t. First Flower is me being transparent.”
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.