Trouble Every Day: 25 years since his passing, Frank Zappa is all over Philadelphia in April

Frank Zappa’s Philly ’76 LP cover | via Amazon

There are so many Frank Zappas to consider that it’s often a struggle to focus on which one to pinpoint. Is he the man who lovingly crafted intricate and tender guitar solos from “Black Napkins” to “Inca Roads”?

Or the silly ribald humorist of “Titties and Beer” or “Bwana Dik”?

Or the high-minded composer behind “Lumpy Gravy” or “Orchestral Favorites”?

Or the psychedelic rocker and jazz-bo of “Freak Out” and “Hot Rats”?

What one can focus on, twenty five years after his death, is that innovative guitarist / composer / socio-political satirist / free expression activist Zappa is more crucial than ever (especially when you consider that the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer will soon get his own hologram treatment) and by, all accounts is having a busy spring by Philadelphia standards. Continue reading →


John Prine’s New Prime Time: Veteran troubadour holds court with Kurt Vile at the Merriam Theater

John Prine | photo by Matthew Shaver for WXPN

There are not many of the old original issue John Prines left; that breed of craggy, earnest-but-dryly humorous storyteller-troubadour with Midwestern roots running as deep as ancient maples and ruminations of lives past that are equally old and pulsing and grainy. As a songwriter who poised his characters in a constant state of distress, distaste, wry sly circumstance, or even love with an historic downhome perspective, Prine was (and is, from the sound and furry of his first album in 13 years, The Tree of Forgiveness) a treasure. Add in his usual mix of rough-hewn country and folk with hints of soul and rockabilly, and you’re cooking with gas. Prine’s gruff and ready expressive voice is but icing on a savory confection. And now, Prine – still a mailman at heart, always a contemporary to elders such as Kris Kristofferson, Steve Goodman and Jackson Browne – has hollowed out a new niche as a godfather to the likes of Sturgill Simpson and Brandi Carlisle, and as a man who outran death (two cancers) and the age’s usual ravages to find himself comfortably humble (and hummable).

In a sold out performance at the Merriam Theater, Prine, his crack musical team (including multi-string man Fats Kaplin), and opening act/occasional on-stage collaborator Kurt Vile, formed a circle around material that was bruised, even busted, but never completely broken down and out for the count. Continue reading →


Martha My Dear: Martha Stuckey goes her own red way with Due To The Sensitive Nature at SEI Innovation Studios

Martha Stuckey | photo by Travis Chantar | courtesy of the artist

Away from her glittering and theatrically driven disco-funk-Philly outfit Red 40 & the Last Groovement, singer-actress-lyricist Martha Stuckey is no less dramatic. It’s just that the characters in Stuckey’s solo sights are more isolated and quite frankly boiled down in number to a noirish, ritualized and sexualized few. And that’s where Due To The Sensitive Nature comes in.

The performance runs from April 12 to 14 at SEI Innovation Studios, and finds Stuckey accompanied by steel guitar and gurgling 80s-ish synths, discovering a hole in her heart and her past that runs along the sweat-filled lines of a modern day James Cain or Erica Jong…an unnerving sensualist place where easy escape seems unlikely. The Key and Martha chatted about leaving homes of all sorts in the midst of a bitter chill. Continue reading →


The Academy in Peril and Jocularity: Bill Murray, Jan Vogler and Friends live in Philly

Bill Murray, Jan Vogler & Friends: New Worlds at Kimmel Center | photo by John Vettese

The current theory behind all things “Bill Murray” is to expect the unexpected of the 67-year-old lion of comedy. Murray hangs out with Scandinavian students in Scotland and washes dishes. Murray visits Austin during South by Southwest and hits up house parties. Murray sends wild rice to a Charleston restaurant table filled with women with the caveat, “Don’t gobble it.” Murray crashes an engagement party and gets his photo taken with the betrotheds. Murray pops up at Oscar’s Tavern in Rittenhouse Square on leave from his son’s wedding. How odd then could a chamber-devised album (New Worlds) of recitations of the writings Ernest Hemingway, Walt Whitman and Mark Twain teamed with the compositions of Stephen Foster, George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein be within that framework? Or a live performance art concert of those same musical moments at a damn-near-sold-out Academy of Music with forlorn cellist Jan Vogler, vexing violinist Mira Wang and prancing pianist Vanessa Perez? Continue reading →


Bettye’s Bob: A conversation with Bettye LaVette about Dylan, interpretation and how Things Have Changed

Bettye LaVette | photo by Mark Seliger | via

Releasing a new album during God’s holiest of holidays was a smart thing for Bettye LaVette. The raw-voiced interpretative R&B singer and current New Jersey resident makes the music of others a deeply religious and innovative experience as she uncovers (no, crafts lovingly and with incendiary force) never-before-witnessed nuances to songwriters such as Roger Waters, Lucinda Williams, Joan Armatrading, Peter Townshend, Willie Nelson, Eddie Hinton and others in her immediate past.

Her new Things Have Changed, however dissects and reassembles the stuff of Bob Dylan in a manner that resembles a mad scientist at play – cutting and changing and re-stitching the 20th Century Bard’s lyrics and music into something newly marvelous and provocative. LaVette shows up at World Café Live on April 5 and chatted with me on Good Friday, the album’s release day, about the good that God brings…even if she’s not so sure of divine providence. Continue reading →


Marc Ribot’s Music of Resistance

Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog | via

From his time as part of Lower East Side Manhattan’s loft jazz scene through to his major label entrée with Tom Waits and onto his own solo/band list (Rootless Cosmopolitans, Young Philadelphians, Ceramic Dog), guitarist-composer Marc Ribot is the ultimate indie musician and a working class iconoclast/union leader with old world smarts. His newest, most combustible Dog work with Shahzad Ismaily (bass, electronics) and Ches Smith (drums), Y R U Still Here?, also finds Ribot at his most angrily and committedly political – a rant he’s sure to lay out when he plays an Ars Nova Workshop gig this Thursday, March 29 at Johnny Brenda’s. Continue reading →


Two To Tango: Kristin Hersh and Grant Lee Phillips

Kristin Hersh | photo by Peter Mellekas // Grant-Lee Phillips | photo by Denise Siegel

A co-headlining bill with the one-time front persons for Grant Lee Buffalo and Throwing MusesGrant-Lee Phillips and Kristin Hersh – could be, for lesser artists, a trip backwards and something indicative of our current obsession with the 90s. Yet neither of these moody singing songwriters have ever bothered to wallow or follow. Phillips’ new Widdershins album is exquisitely timed and tuned to our torturous political climate, and Hersh’s most recent album is the delicately poetic Wyatt at the Coyote Palace from 2016. The two old friends hit Boot & Saddle on Wednesday March 14. Before that, however, they played Two to Tango. Continue reading →


Two To Tango: The Fantastic Imagination’s Josh Meakim and Prowler’s Keith Greiman

Josh Meakam of The Fantastic Imagination and Keith Greiman of Prowler | photos courtesy of the artists

When two veterans of the Philly odd-tronica scene get together for a party, there’s always the promise of menace and mayhem. For neither Prowler‘s Keith Greiman (and his brand of boogie-space-glam) nor A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s Josh Meakim and his wonky electronic The Fantastic Imagination are easy listens. That’s why they’re each brilliant in their own way.

While Prowler is currently out-and-about with a new EP whose release is celebrated at Ortliebs on February 24, The Fantastic Imagination is still recovering from its cassette EP party for its Good Knight, Sweet Dreams – also at Ortliebs and also with Prowler – as well as its more recent Moonphases Vol.1. Continue reading →


Dice Raw gets Boxed

Dice Raw in Henry Box Brown | photo courtesy of Rachel Ezekiel-Fishbein
Dice Raw in Henry Box Brown | photo courtesy of Rachel Ezekiel-Fishbein

The occasional mouthpiece for The Roots heads into his second theater piece Henry Box Brown: a Hip Hop Musical for Black History Month

Forever connected to The Roots, Karl Jenkins – aka Dice Raw – has struck out on his own in a big way within the last five years. Starting with his most politicized solo album yet, Jimmy’s Back, and his self-penned accompanying theater piece, The Last Jimmy (both dealing with Jim Crow laws, the unfairness of black-male incarceration and present-day forms of enslavement), Jenkins has further ensconced himself within the world of theater with Henry Box Brown: a Hip Hop Musical.

Running at Community College of Philadelphia’s Bonnell Auditorium, the musical he stars in and has co-written is about the legendary Virginia-based slave who — upon losing his wife — mailed himself in a 3′ x 2’8″ x 2′ box to Philadelphia and subsequent freedom. From there, “Box” Brown became prominent for his writing and his on-stage antics as a hypnotist, magician and singer. Continue reading →


From North Wales, PA to Arkansas to the Hoagie Nation: An interview with John Oates

John Oates
John Oates | photo by Greg Vorobiov | courtesy of the artist

Anyone who knows the platinum-plated duo of Daryl Hall and John Oates gets that they are two men separate yet equal and as far apart from each other as sausage and silk. It is when the famed twosome come together in soul-filled harmony that they ever-so-gloriously unified and of one mind.

Currently living in Nashville, and making solo music far apart from the R&B-based rock, it is Oates that seems farthest from where he started; North Wales, PA to North Philly’s Temple University campus, where he met Hall. For all of the soul-pop the duo is renowned for, Oates’ recent solo career – or at least his last four studio efforts 1000 Miles of Life (2008), Mississippi Mile (2011), Good Road to Follow (2013), and now, the newly-released Arkansas – is ingrained in the coffee house folk that he loved as a young troubadour.

On his way to an Arkansas-based live showcase at World Café Live this Tuesday, February 6, Oates rapped about his new music, his still new autobiography Change of Seasons, and – of course – the just-announced second iteration of Hoagie Nation, Hall & Oates’ showcase of locally-curated bands and meat products, which returns to Festival Pier on Saturday, May 26, this year featuring their new summer tour partners, Train. Continue reading →