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The Onlies w/ Vivian Leva – [old time / country]
August 17, 2018 @ 9:00 pm - 11:59 pm EDT
WHERE: THE BLOCK off biltmore, 39 S Market St, Asheville, NC 28801
WHEN: Friday August 17, 2018
DOORS: 8pm | SHOW: 9pm
GENRE: old time / country
AGES: all ages
TICKETS: $10 adv.
SEATING: seated general admission / standing room
The Onlies began as a trio of lifelong friends and musical collaborators who realized early on that they shared a fascination with traditional fiddle music. Leo Shannon, Samantha Braman, and Riley Calcagno started making music together at age seven (2005), and quickly became immersed in fiddle music and tradition in their home of Seattle, down the West Coast, and across the world. In recent years, they have developed their sound with the addition of Vivian Leva, an acclaimed talent of old-time, country, and Americana.
The Onlies have developed an individual sound, with original songs that “demonstrate an enviable ability to move beyond the immediacy of their lives to touch at deeper truths, and…covers of traditional songs and tunes (that) harken to the original but are unleashed with the kind of wild, free abandon that only youth provides” (Kithfolk). Their albums have charted on radio stations around the country, and they have had the opportunity to perform and collaborate with Elvis Costello, Darol Anger, Bruce Molsky, Laurie Lewis, Altan, Tristan Clarridge, and John Herrmann. In recent years, the Onlies have found a musical center in Old Time Appalachian stringband music, and their fiddle, banjo, and guitar playing have become a fixture in a wave of young people who are studying and engaging with the old time tradition with a deep respect for the history of the music and people who make it, as well as a curiosity about how old time music fits into contemporary sounds and culture. Their most recent collaboration is a recording of old time tunes and songs with John Herrmann, Meredith McIntosh, Eric Robertson, and Tristan Clarridge in a project titled The Ruglifters (Yodel-Ay-ee 099). Vivian Leva’s charting solo debut, Time is Everything was released on Free Dirt Records in 2018 as well. They are the 2017 winners of the Appalachian Stringband Contest in Clifftop, WV. The Onlies have a lot to say in the future of American folk and traditional music.
Vivian Leva’s voice is the sound of living tradition. Raised by parents who absorbed ancient tunes and ballads during visits to legendary old-time musicians, Leva grew up steeped in the Appalachian and country music of her Lexington, VA home. On Time Is Everything (coming spring 2018), her label debut, Leva earns a spot in the lineage of great neo-traditional songwriters like Gillian Welch and Sarah Jarosz. And much like these singers, Leva finds inspiration in the past without being stifled by it.
Though still in college, Leva’s musical roots run deep. She grew up going to fiddle festivals with her parents, both acclaimed roots musicians themselves who perform as the duo Jones and Leva. Her father, James, is a respected multi-instrumentalist who learned knee-to-knee from old-time legends like Tommy Jarrell and Doug Wallin, while her mother, Carol Elizabeth, picked up bygone songs from a now lost generation of singers and recorded with the pioneering bluegrass duo Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard. Leva soaked up this influence at a young age, and, at age 9, began penning songs and performing with her father at venues like the prestigious Carter Family Fold.
Traditional American music was an early influence on her songwriting. Her time at music festivals (she’s never missed a Clifftop) regularly landed her in jams with roots music heavyweights like Dirk Powell, Caleb Klauder, and Pharis & Jason Romero. “The biggest part of traditional music has always been the community,” she says. “It’s really special that you can travel almost anywhere and share tunes with a group of people that you’ve never met.” In this spirit, she joined The Onlies, a young stringband that won the coveted traditional band competition at the 2017 Clifftop festival in West Virginia. Add to this performance resumé teaching stints at The Swannanoa Gathering, The Big Sur Fiddle Camp, and Centrum’s “Voice Works” and her roots music bonafides are obvious, but it’s Leva’s songwriting that’ll bowl you over.
The sonic and lyrical palette of Time Is Everything, which was recorded at Joseph DeJarnette’s Studio 808A in Floyd, VA, is influenced in equal parts by classic storytellers like Kitty Wells and Texas Gladden, the harmony singing of the Stanley and Everly Brothers, and the pop sensibilities of Mandolin Orange. Leva’s writing effortlessly shifts between archaic ballads, classic country and honky tonk, and the best of contemporary Americana. For her first solo record, she enlisted the talents of multi-instrumentalist Riley Calcagno (The Onlies) as well as other top notch collaborators (Jack Devereux, Eric Robertson, Nick Falk, and Joseph “Joebass” DeJarnette) to add fiddle, banjo, pedal steel, and percussion to the album’s tastefully minimal production, imbuing each story of love and heartbreak with a hearty emotional punch.
The album’s title didn’t come easily until she noticed a lyrical through-line: the passing of time. “The phrase “Time Is Everything” encompasses the main theme of all of the songs,” she says. “It’s really about how everything in a situation can seem right but it all comes down to timing. That’s especially true in a relationship.” The tasteful Americana rendition of the title track, a co-write with musical partner Riley Calcagno, exemplifies this ephemeral longing. However, stories of wandering eyes or missed connections also show up in the straight-ahead honky tonk of “Why Don’t You Introduce Me As Your Darling,” the country shuffle of “Bottom of the Glass” (a song she wrote at age 14), and the old-time stringband-influenced “No Forever.” The album features eight originals plus a cover of Paul Burch’s plaintive waltz “Last Of My Kind,” and a re-composed version of Virginia ballad singer Texas Gladden’s “Cold Mountains” with a new chorus written by Leva and Calcagno.
For Leva, the kernel of a song often appears spontaneously—a story from a close friend, a closing scene of a TV show, a new guitar tuning. “If I specifically sit down to write something, I usually don’t like it. But I play around with different starting places.” Once the scene is set, however, the song is often complete in less than an hour. “It’s always hard to express real feelings without being overly sentimental, to balance a specific story and the universal.” Rest assured, this album strikes the balance perfectly.
It’s rare to find such a mature and confident voice in a young artist—someone whose music springs so organically from a grassroots connection to the traditional music community in which she was raised. Time Is Everything is indeed a bold statement from this rising star of deeply rooted American music. Vivian Leva is a voice that deserves to be listened to in the coming years.