Touring the Past 

click to enlarge josh_small010.jpg

Josh Small has some gypsy in his blood, so it's inevitable that this story ends with him traveling. But the troubadour fought it. Small moved here in 1998 from Falls Church to go to VCU. He'd grown up playing music with his family.

"My pops plays banjo, my mom sings," he says. From church functions he went on to try his hand at jazz guitar. Then he "put away the metronome and all that and started to focus on song craft."

What he's come up with, the lonesome banjo, the cross-bred wail -- something Woody Guthrie and Steve Earle might hatch after a night of drinking — pretty much qualifies him as one of this city's bards. He comes up with lyrics by playing, perhaps having a drink.

"Basically, if I don't remember it the next day, I know it wasn't any good," he says. His music is lovelorn and funny and vaguely biblical. Also, he admits, angry, which puts him in good company with the punk folks he first started touring with.

Small saw the road while opening for bands like Stop It!! around 2003, but he always came back here, where he sees a genuine community of musicians trying to raise one another up. "I feel like it's just a lot more genuine support for what people are doing," he says.

Small's played on a lot of records, like Homemade Knives, the Silent Type, a collection called "Pedals on Our Pirate Ships" (about bikes). He made another connection with his neighbor, Tim Barry of Avail, with whom he started touring as band member and show-opener.

That was a few years ago, and now Small has an album under Barry's label, called "Tall." But what really thrills Small is that the album is coming out on vinyl. Burgundy and gold. "That was the biggest deal in the world for me," he says.

So the troubadour's heading out on tour again, nationwide this time, with Barry and Barry's sister and William Elliott Whitmore, which pretty much fulfills the obligations of his blood.

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