Getting old is scary. Not so much in the “I’m gonna break my hip taking this layup” way, but more in the way of “oh shit — death.” Mortality. Responsibility. Paying rent AND feeding my two cats BEFORE finishing The Walking Dead WHILE cooking dinner for my wife. And the looming final frontier, that much closer now at age 30, struggling to create something meaningful for myself and others and holy shit this has gotten way heavier than I expected. But such is life, and such is growing up. Neverland is fun, but the world can be a cold and nasty place, in need of warmth. In need of love. In need of funk. Some music for us who are constantly growing up, or in other, less stringent directions.
Perhaps Q-Tip said it best on “Verses From the Abstract” — “the world is kinda cold and the rhythm is my blanket / wrap yourself up in it if you love it then you’ll thank it.”
Enter Butcher Brown, a quartet of grownish folk from Richmond, VA, a town whose musical spectrum ranges from metal stalwarts Lamb of God and Gwar to soul survivor D’Angelo, and according to Wikipedia Pat Benatar lived there for a time. I caught a Butcher Brown set this past summer at Rockwood Music Hall, and as I’m all too familiar with, it included a 7-hour drive back to RVA — a classic NYC one-off for a band that is decidedly removed from all coastal scenesterism. Their new album, GrownFolk, out on cassette via Thrash Flow and digitally here, is a meditation on the groove, a study in chicken grease, a score to your life or mine.
The band, which operates out of its own analog haven, Jellowstone Studios, settles into nuanced grooves with an innate respect for the past, a reverence for the Headhunters, Stevie Wonder, the Meters and the voodoo of the tape machine (don’t let an abrupt track cut deter you). But something feels decidedly present about GrownFolk, like the organic nature of a Madlib beat or a Soulquarians production. On first listen I was immediately reminded of The Philadelphia Experiment, a record that kind of floated into my life and gave me, as bassist Andrew Randazzo says of the GrownFolk process, “a desire to have some music to just relax to.”
In an era where people eschew tangibility for technology, Butcher Brown is a ray of hope for the future. They are soldiers of peace, armed with respect for the lineage of Black music, who aren’t afraid to push forward. Rooted in the soil of the earth, their music reflects an aesthetic that exists beyond chronology. As anomalous as brown leaves of fall on a spring tree, they cause you to question exactly how a group of relatively “young” men possess such “old” souls. They are agents of a continuum. A spectrum of color that defies categorical constructs, like that of dusk settling across the evening sky. They are a subtle, yet beautiful, reminder that after the darkness of nightfall, we are soon to expect the promise of the sun.
The Butcher Brown galaxy extends beyond Payton — guitarist Keith Askey, recently named one of “six guitarists you should know about” by Revive Music, was featured on Kendrick Lamar’s stunning To Pimp A Butterfly, while drummer Corey Fonville has cemented his place in Christian Scott’s shapeshifting ensemble. Randazzo and keyboardist DJ Harrison are both fixtures on the Richmond scene, and it’s not uncommon to find Harrison playing drums, remixing or engineering on a variety of projects.
Amidst the subtlety, GrownFolk makes it obvious that Butcher Brown has that thing, that unteachable musical ESP that truly fashions our favorite bands. As Harrison says in the album’s promo video, “there’s a certain magic to it, you know? When you’re just around the people that know you the best.” That magic exists all over our go-to records, the ones that make us feel something, the ones that drag us out of mental caverns, the ones that offer clarity or headnods on the subway, or just a night at home with your lover and a neat bourbon.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on October 23, 2016.