“This next song had 4,000 streams. In my world, that’s a hit. It’s about breakfast.”
Queue the laughter and eager anticipation.
Darrin Bradbury had his record release show at Grimey’s this past Friday night, debuting his sophomore album, Talking Dogs and Atom Bombs, which is his first off of his newest label, ANTI-Records. The record was produced by Kenneth Pattengale of The Milk Carton Kids, while Bradbury’s dear friend and musical cohort Jeremy Ivey, (also hubby of Margo Price, who lends a verse on the track, “The Trouble With Time”), is the only co-writer on the record. Fully loaded with his nonchalant wit and charm, Bradbury consistently had the crowd in stitches all throughout the night.
Upon arrival, I was barricaded from the rows of records due to a string of plaid clad younger gentleman standing in line, vinyl clutched in hand. Seconds after assessing the scene, I heard a woman behind me say, “That’s my client! He’s so small!” Pointing to the Jason Isbell cutout that bids you adieu as you walk out.
Excitable chatter echoed in all corners and rows of the record shop as fans anticipated Bradbury to take the stage. I recalled catching a whiff of what smelled like my grandma’s perfume. (Dorothy is that you?!)
It was about ten minutes to six, and I took a stroll past Mini Isbell and hooked into the basement. I immediately saw who I thought to be Darrin, slowly moseying around the bookshelves, looking very zen with sunglasses on and hands behind his back, gripping a water bottle. He soon sauntered upstairs and I heard a jovial, “Hey man!” and a hand slap.
About five minutes later, I walked back up, and the place had nearly tripled in size. I noticed a few snaking lines, this time the longest being to the beer vendors. Aluminum cracked and carbonated bubbles hissed, and I could see various colorful cans of what looked to be a variety of IPAs tight in the grip of onlookers. It was then I weaseled my way towards the stage and waited.
It didn’t take long for who I believed to be Doyle Davis make the announcement that the beer was free, to which I instinctively thought to head back and crack open a cold one for the show. But then, something strange came over me. Something stopped me in my tracks, which I believe was the act of holding myself to a standard of “professionalism,” or something silly like that. So there I stood, gripping my Bic click-pen and Mead Memo pad instead, awaiting Bradbury.
With little to no fanfare, Bradbury took the stage. He scooped up his curvaceous Nylon-stringed guitar that glowed Sunkist orange under the lights, introduced himself, thanked everybody for coming, and started what would be a night full of good humor and sharply written songs.
From the get go, Bradbury gently tickled the strings with delicate precision, singing like the long lost nephew of John Prine himself. Song after song, Bradbury’s whimsical, witty lyrics left the audience with a constant grin throughout, hanging on every line.
“For what? The cops came in, but they wouldn’t say for what,” he sings, prompting the audience to call back “For what?” He finished his bizarro lullaby to then discuss his wardrobe, which apparently was fresh from the mall, not Wal Mart this time.
Bradbury continued with his fun and thought provoking songs, making folk singers far and wide proud with his originality and tact, but a few songs later, he did touch on a serious note. He discussed suffering from a pulmonary embolism and a blood clot while living in Virginia, which understandably shook him. But he didn’t prolong the seriousness of it for long, as he shifted gears discussing busking and making no money in Charlottesville, where he wrote the next tune, “Field Notes From a College Town.”
About halfway through the set, he then called out for requests. In an instant, an older woman with curly white hair in front of me shouted, “Junky Love!” This was soon followed by other requests behind me in various voices in various corners of the room. “Swordfish!” yelled another.
Though reluctant, he ended up picking away at “Junky Love,” and followed it up with “Swordfish,” to which drew the lone cheer and clap from the man who’d requested it when he started it. Mild commotion ensued behind me during, and upon taking a quick glance I could see a beer had spilled on or near a girl in a flowery dress, and I’d cringed wondering if it had gotten on the records too. “I’m so sorry,” a man said. “Nothing to be sorry about,” retorted Bradbury with a cheeky grin.
Bradbury mentioned how a friend of his had texted him that morning letting him know he’d been featured on NPR, to which he expressed, “I’m just a sad white guy- surely they have more important matters, ya know, fighting the good fight for democracy and all.” Faces were likely beginning to hurt from the perpetual smiling, laughter, and sheer delight.
Bradbury closed the evening with sincere gratitude towards the audience, Grimey’s, ANTI-Records, and others, before delving into the title track of his album, “Talking Dogs and Atom Bombs.” It was a great tune to wrap up the show, and upon uttering the lyrics, “The microwave/And the atom bomb/ Are distant cousins,” I could hear the voice of the body inside the flowery dress behind me whisper, “He’s right, though.”
Bradbury’s songs melt dark humor with the ordinary, and he delivers literary songwriting with no shortage of wit. His seamless compounding of the absurd and the everyday makes for delightful listening, and stirs questions of perception. Stop to smell the roses, or perhaps the roadkill.