Simple and Soulful: Penny and Sparrow Evolve with Sixth Album, Finch

by | Sep 17, 2019 | MUSIC

Get to know Texas indie-folk duo Penny and Sparrow before they charm the river city at The Broadberry Wednesday.

If you’ve never heard Andy Baxter sing while Kyle Jahnke plays guitar and sings harmony, you’ve been missing out.

On the surface, that’s really all there is to Penny and Sparrow, an indie-folk duo from Austin, Texas. Throughout their time together, the duo have created countless beautiful tracks, often backed by soft keyboard, small groups of stringed instruments, and the occasional drum kit. But so much more than that, Penny and Sparrow’s music is defined by the tear-jerkingly honest and often heartbreaking lyrics Baxter and Jahnke bring to each and every song.

Past albums by the duo have been written with emotional undertones beneath their surface. 2016 LP Let a Lover Drown You was a collection of songs wrapped around love and all of its intricacies, while 2017’s Wendigo was noticeably darker, often wrestling with the prospect of loss. Now, their sixth album, entitled Finch (an appropriate nod to Charles Darwin), deals with change.

“We write out of the surplus of who we are at the time of the record,” Baxter said, “and it just so happens, this record deals with a bunch of change and evolution because it felt like that’s what we were undergoing at the time.”

Finch features a wide range of songs, which listeners can sink their teeth into to get a grasp of what Penny and Sparrow bring to the table.  “Eloise” is a folksy telling of a summertime romance, while “Don’t Wanna Be Without Ya” is an upbeat jam that talks about reincarnation as a means to be with the one you love.

The changes the duo have undergone have come as a welcome awakening for both Jahnke and Baxter, who were both raised under the white Southern conservative banner. They have spoken at length about how experiencing life outside of that culture has shaped and evolved their lives and their music.

Baxter and Jahnke met as college roommates at the University of Texas in Austin. They began their musical pilgrimage with Ryan Adams covers in their dorm room, and quickly worked their way into writing their own songs — Jahnke says it’s fuzzy, but he believes “Creature” and “We’ve Got Something” were the first two songs the pair wrote together. 

In 2018, the pair had the chance to work with Americana singer-songwriter Drew Holcomb and folk duo Johnnyswim on the emotionally and socially charged Goodbye Road EP. The project came about on the heels of a wave of tragedy, including the racial attacks in Charlottesville, the loss of legendary artist Tom Petty, and the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. Baxter and Jahnke sat down in a speakeasy with Holcomb to co-write “Just Your Memory” — a beautiful ballad written for those who were lost in all of the senseless violence. 

Photo by Shayne Jacopian, via Penny & Sparrow/Facebook

Penny and Sparrow’s true brilliance, however, shines through on stage in front of a live audience. Their simple yet soulful sound captures the attention of a room like few other artists you’ve ever seen. After just a few words, people are captivated by Baxter’s effortless vibrato and Jahnke’s harmonious accompaniment. It’s a reaction the pair have come to expect, because they earn it, recognizing that they can put their vanity aside and take pride in their work.

“Now the way that I view it, when I’m walking on the stage, we want to be great,” Baxter said. “I want to be fucking awesome at this job. And I want to sing so hard and so well as to be impressive, not only to my buddy standing next to me playing and singing along with me, but also to anybody listening.”

As if you need more convincing of the duo’s passion for the music they create and perform, Baxter gave a wonderfully romantic metaphor for his approach to performing in front of new audiences.

“The idea of trying to treat every night as though it was this blind date where I have to earn affection is sort of an interesting game you get to play within yourself,” Baxter said, “of really wanting to gain people’s attention because we believe in what we sing. We believe in what we sing about, and how we perform.”

Photo by Ryan Millar, via Penny & Sparrow/Facebook

If nothing else, you’ll want to see Penny and Sparrow for the pair’s between-song banter. Baxter and Jahnke have such a natural, lighthearted chemistry with one another that spills effortlessly into any crowd they step in front of. And however awkward it gets at times, they said they’re perfectly content keeping the jokes flowing.

“The weirder and more uncomfortable the crowd gets, oddly, the more engaged the audience will be,” Jahnke said.

Penny and Sparrow will be playing at the Broadberry in Richmond this Wednesday, September 18 at 8 p.m. Come for the melancholic acoustic tunes, stay for the Frank Ocean and Celine Dion covers.

Top Photo via Penny & Sparrow/Facebook

Music Sponsored By Graduate Richmond

Owen FitzGerald

Owen FitzGerald

Hi, everyone! I'm a lifelong Richmonder who loves this city and the people in it. I will be graduating from VCU in December with my degree in digital journalism. I'm passionate about the environment and giving a voice to people who can't be heard on their own.

more in music

RVA Shows You Must See This Week November 23 – November 29

FEATURED SHOW Saturday, November 26, 8 PM Holy Roller (Photo by Joey Wharton), Chris Leggett & The Copper Line, Drew Foust @ The Camel - $12 in advance, $15 day of show (order tickets HERE) That extended end-of-year season known as "The Holidays" has officially...

Noise, Cosplay, and Body Horror: The Rise Of ROTWL

In my role as the general tracker of upcoming shows in and around the Richmond area, I hear about a whole lot of bands that are active in Virginia -- sometimes from the moment they play their very first show. Over the past eight years of show-column-writing, I've seen...

Strumming in the Underground: Richmond’s House Show Scene

Sometime in late 2018 I was at a house show to see one of my favorite local bands, Plastic Nancy. There must have been over a hundred people packed into a tiny living room, with bodies spilling into the kitchen and outside onto the back deck. Sweat and smoke mixed...

Vision Video: 80s Postpunk With A Modern Flair

Anyone who loves post punk or any other kind of alternative music can vividly tell you how it felt the first time that they heard a song written in that vein. The first time that they heard The Cure or Joy Division, or the first time that they heard the end trails of...

Singer Songwriter Casey Graham And Midlife Pilot

Casey Graham continues to evolve as a singer songwriter and his current project Midlife Pilot is one of my favorite things happening in Richmond, VA right now. Throw in the mix in his outstanding concert photography and music video work and you have a creative machine...

RADIO RVA EPISODE 16 | rSUN on Insomniac Radio September 16th

Next up on Radio RVA, a mix from Richmond VA's rSUN, an up & coming artist that just played main stage at Big Dub & Moonrise fest this past year. Played out on multiple stages at Lost Lands and Wakaan Fests by multiple DJs including DJ Diesel aka Shaq. ...

RVA Shows You Must See This Week: November 16 – November 22

FEATURED SHOW Monday, November 21, 7 PM R.O.T.W.L.C.F.T.S.C.B.M.H., Dry Talker, Charger Port, Gull @ Ipanema - $5-10 sliding scale In a typical week, it stands to reason that the most interesting shows that happen will take place on the hottest nights of the week --...

Sun-kissed Australian Punks: The Music of Skegss

I was decidedly nervous to interview Ben Reed, the lead singer and guitar player of the Australian band Skegss. Not only had I become over the last few weeks an enormous fan of their music, but I had never spoken one on one with a member of a band that had achieved...

Pin It on Pinterest