Richard Buckner, alone with an acoustic guitar through a small amp, performed songs from Surrounded for Folkadelphia before his show at the World Cafe Live on September 14th.
I’ve found that it is nearly impossible to depart from a Jonah Matranga concert and not feel a swell of strong emotions. It is a choked-up enthusiasm that rails against the sternum, fortifies the heart, pumps out the adrenaline, and puts you in a state of renewed compassion for humanity. Goosebumps do follow. Seriously, I am not indulging in exaggerated descriptions for the sake of your continued readership, as I may have in the past, but am stating how seeing, nay, experiencing Matranga play has been for me and countless others. You might call this a shared cathartic experience. Shared catharsis between the audience members, but also with the performer.
Matranga has an unquenchable love of music and thrives on drawing people into it. This is definitely not always the case with musicians. As a society tapped into real-time updates on every single article of news and every event that takes place, I often believe that we become unsurprised by life, jaded even, and walled off to occurances that might shake us up in new and differing ways. Matranga aims straight for this shell. Taking the lead, Matranga creates a safe show environment to act out – to sing-a-long, look goofy, talk about feelings, talk about good times and bad times, to be genuinely excited about the here-and-now. He roars, rants, and raves, digresses in the middle of songs to make a funny comment, makes calls for requests and even song edits from the crowd. At his recent concert in Philadelphia at the First Unitarian Church Chapel, of which he continually stopped to marvel at as one of his favorites spaces, Matranga started his first song, the acapella “Sing,” as he strolled from the entrance to the stage. “Sing” by all accounts is a silly and whimsical song about the love of singing. Like the whole concert, it is designed to elicit responses and reactions. Everyone starts of with nervous, maybe embarassed laughter and tense energy, but slowly that shell around each person melts away and you start seeing smiles and nods. Then you start hearing participation. Folks are looking around at each other knowingly – no one is in a rush to leave because there is something special here
Admittedly, if this was your first Matranga experience, you might scoff and call it a schtick, a put-on act, but I think you would quickly change your mind. At this point in his musical career, Jonah has pretty much done everything: toured the world, played to audiences sized both massive and tiny, released major label, indie label, self distributed albums, and collaborated with countless other musicians. At this point in his career, it’s certainly about the music, the fans, and their intersection and interaction. His performances are about as honest as they come. There’s much that we can learn from Matranga about staying passionate, creative, and open-minded in the pursuit of your dreams – as you can see, he’s still at it himself.
In addition to releasing music under his own name, Jonah Matranga has performed as and with onelinedrawing, Far, New End Original, Gratitude, I Is Another, and more. He recently successfully funded his forthcoming album (I Really Love Your) Company via Kickstarter and that’s where the songs from our Folkadelphia Session are culled from. He performed at the First Unitarian Church on September 23rd, 2013. We’ll see him again soon.
Photo by Laura Jane Brubaker [http://laurajanebrubaker.tumblr.com/]
Is serendipitous musical discovery still possible? With most listening being done on computers and mobile devices that have access to endless catalogs and discographies, that utilize advanced matching algorithms for recommendations, can we randomly happen upon our new favorite record? There are a billion arts & culture blogs that will point you to the latest, the greatest, and the up-and-coming. What’s left to discover? Is there no free-will in unearthing what you will love? Conversely, I personally think that there will always be a human, spiritual, or je ne sais quoi element to finding new things, especially in music, literature, poetry, art, and anything culturally rooted. Algorithms predict future patterns based on past history. Blogs are curated by people with their own set of ideals, opinions, and tastes, all of which are constantly in motion. However nothing can prepare you for the short and long term effects that an unheard, read, or seen work can have on you until you internalize it. Sometimes you are unknowingly or unwittingly drawn to a bookcover or album art, a song title or sculpture, even an artist’s name, by a cosmic force. I’ve found some of my favorite pieces, in music and art, in this matter, through this gravitational field. What can this be if not wonderful happenstance? I’m thankful for it and I sincerely hope we don’t construct an algorithm that crushes all of the mysterious qualities out of discovery.
A recent occurance of this phenomenon took place when I found Caroline Rose‘s album America Religious. Being part of a radio station, you are often inundated with those pesky plastic disks which are often sent in bulk and litter every flat surface with their jewel casings. I’m certainly not complaining about my wide access and privledge to new and old releases, but it’s hard to navigate these waters with limited time. It was in one of these piles that I spotted and subsequently snagged America Religious. With no preconceptions and, admittedly no expectations, I loaded that bad boy into my Discman, just kidding, my laptop and quickly became absorbed. As the songs go by, you realize that Rose is a true American songwriter like Dylan, Van Zandt, or King – different stylistically, but all touch on something inherently continental. Rose spins stories with a sense of adventure, a certain badass swagger, and devil-may-care attitude. It’s Americana and it’s not, it’s rock-and-roll and it’s not, it’s rootsy and it’s not. Her music exists somewhere at the confluence of these styles, but also carries the ambiguities of living without of these genres. Truly, a refreshing album to be drawn to for a listen. Was it fate? Was it mathematical equations? Was it ancient aliens? Perhaps it be sheer luck? I’d rather think that my environment, personality, mood, weather, and the universe, in its infinite wonderment, conspired together to get that CD in my hands. Thanks guys.
Caroline Rose and her sideman Jer Coons recorded this Folkadelphia Session on September 3rd in advance of their late summer tour and concert at The Fire in Philadelphia.
The first line of Philly guitarist Chris Forsyth‘s online bio really does it for me: “Chris Forsyth’s hypnotic compositions assimilate art-rock textures with vernacular American influences.” I mean, could I have dreamed of saying it any better? We last heard Forsyth in 2012 on Early Astral, a collaboration with Koen Holtkamp (of Mountains) and with his own Kenzo Deluxe, a heavy-duty album that showed off all the different things a guitar could do, from sonic textures, to deconstructionist blues, to melody-filled jam outs. Forsyth returns with a full backing group, the Solar Motel Band, for his brand new release appropriately titled Solar Motel. Solar Motel is divided into four long-form pieces of what Forsyth terms “cosmic Americana.” What that means, you’ll have to find out for yourself; attend the Solar Motel album release show FOR FREE at the Rotunda this Friday, November 15.
In honor of the release, we present a second Folkadelphia Session this week, a bonus audio treat for your ears. On August 22nd, before his collaborative improvsational set and subsequent show with Philly musicians Mary Lattimore and Jeff Zeigler, Forsyth tracked a few solo acoustic numbers for us. Put six strings in this guy’s hands and there is nothing he can’t and probably won’t do. For even deeper Forsyth exploration, listen to the Solar Motel Band’s recent Key Studio Session.
Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese
Maybe it was a stroke of genius or maybe it was heat stroke, but during the dog days of this summer, an idea struck me that I knew had to pursue. One of those “ah ha!” moments. We’d wrangle together a group of musicians so amazing, so talented for a collaborative live session that the result would literally be jaw-dropping. There was some serious buzz about the idea around the ol’ Folkadelphia watercooler (note: we don’t have a watercooler, but my audio engineers were visibly impressed and sent me encouraging emails). With that positive feeling flowing, I contacted the association of sorta-Philly musicians: harpist Mary Lattimore, synth player/manipulator/producer Jeff Zeigler (of Arc In Round), and guitarists Chris Forsyth and Daniel Bachman. I say “sorta-Philly” because Bachman lives in Virginia now although he previously lived in Philly (in an apartment with Lattimore no less). They were all ready, willing, and able to collaborate for an improvisational set. What I started dubbing “the Ultimate Session” was in place.
The four musicians were playing on the same bill at Johnny Brenda’s on August 22nd. Unfortunately, due to traffic issues Bachman was unable to make it. While it is certainly a loss, I stand by calling this an “ultimate session” because, for my money, this is a dream team of Philly musicians. It’s almost an extension of our previous session with Lattimore & Zeigler – maybe you’d call it a sequel, back with avengence, back with Chris Forsyth. Whereas the older session drifted casually between atmospheric and oceanic, the new one bites a little harder. Sure, there are still plenty of revelatory sections, moments of supreme sonic purity that make me feel like I’m floating, but darker, mechanical, maniacal elements creep in and permeate the mix. By the end, I have already mentally subbed the music into scenes of ’80s sci-fi thriller films.I’m saying to myself, “this section is the protagonist’s dark night of the soul” or “this would be the meeting between the two love interests in this future version of New York City.” You get the picture.
When the music stops, I don’t feel a finality, but instead just the close of this chapter of an on-going project. Perhaps next time not only Bachman will be able to make it, but other collaborators. Think of the soundscapes! Think of the potential mental soundtracks!
Chris Forsyth’s new album Solar Motel is now available and he’ll be celebrating with a release show this coming Friday, November 15th at the Rotunda. Mary Lattimore & Jeff Zeigler perform as a duo on December 4th at Union Transfer for the Rail Park Benefit.
Listen to our past sessions with Mary Lattimore & Jeff Zeigler and Daniel Bachman. Finally, make sure to stop back this Thursday, November 14th for a bonus session featuring Chris Forsyth performing solo acoustically.
What impresses me about British musician Richard Youngs is his ability to craft compelling songs regardless of structure, form, or medium. Since about 1990, Youngs, under his own name, has been working in a world of pure artistic vision and possibility. It is because of this adventurous musical spirit that his releases are often referred to as “unclassifiable,” existing beyond the normal genre pidgeonholes. It might be better to say that Youngs has a supreme love and enthusiasm for music and music-making of all shapes and sizes. This is where we find Richard in 2013; with a new release entitled Summer Through My Mind, Youngs was challenged by the Ba Da Bing label to record an American country record. Of course, with Youngs distinctive musical thumbprint, I don’t think you can quite call this a country record in the American sense, or perhaps even in any earthly sense. This could instead be a country record for the cosmos, for deep space, for a solitary black hole. What we hear is Youngs at possibly his most stripped down, stripped back, and earnest. Country record aside, this might be Youngs’ most “singer-songwriter” record – much of it is acoustic guitar and voice, peppered with wayward harmonica and vocal manipulation. What new uncharted musical territory will Richard Youngs explore next?
Youngs has released over 40 “Richard Youngs” albums and has collaborated, contributed, and compiled many more recordings over the years (just take a gander at his Wiki page – crazy!) His latest record is a great place to start to dig into his music, as well as the Jagjaguwar releases, but go crazy and investigate!
We were lucky enough to record our session with Richard Youngs during his rare stateside appearances, before his show at the Old First Reformed United Church of Christ on September 22nd.
Unless you live under the proverbial rock, you’ve seen the intersection between acoustic music and pop-influenced hit songwriting explode with mass-appeal bands who pepper radio stations, award shows, Billboard charts, and arena stadiums with their highly catchy, highly pleasant, mostly innocuous brand of foot-stompy, anthemic music. You don’t need me to go down the list. There is nothing wrong with enjoying these acts – most are fine musicians and skillful players and there is much to admire. I do however occasionally balk at the sloppily cobbled together genre identifier “folk-pop” that is frequently thrown around. I spend a good portion of my time arguing against the lazy use of genre classifications, particularly because in this age of interconnectivity and real-time sharing, what does genre even mean? When I can swoon to Joan Baez one second, twerk with Big Freedia the next, and write songs that are equally influenced by both, what does it truly mean if I start calling my style “Bounce-folk” (p.s. don’t steal that style because I called it). What I do think is important with regard to genre is understanding and appreciating the roots and history of the style. For many folk-pop or folk-influenced bands currently, I think that appreciation is missing because, at its core, folk music is about storytelling. Many of these groups churn out pop hits masquerading as folk music, but the stories aren’t there.
That brings us to Yellow Red Sparks, a California based band led by Joshua Hanson who initially created the name as a moniker for his solo activities. Yellow Red Sparks is now a trio with Sara Lynn Nishikawa and Goldy joining on bass and drum duties, respectively. At the beginning of 2013, the three released their eponymous debut and have been touring and building a dedicated audience. It would be easy to stamp the band with that “folk-pop” label. They are all excellent musicians with creative ideas that take the songs into interesting and unexpected directions, but still have a sense of the familiar to keep listeners engaged. Acoustic instruments, orchestral arrangements, and strong melodic sensibilities are all present. I could be describing any number of bands at this point. Where Yellow Red Sparks shine and really blow imitators out of the water is in the songwriting, the tie to the folk in “folk-pop” or the heart of “Americana.” Hanson won the prestigious International Songwriting Competition last year, not for a specific category mind you, but the grand prize. Rightly so because his songs read like well-crafted short stories. They have dramatic development and work together so well with the band that at times it feels like a soundtrack to a movie running in my head. I’m on the edge of my seat wondering what’s going to happen next – how often can you say that about a song? Yeah, the trio can spin a good tale.
Before a concert at Ortlieb’s, Yellow Red Sparks performed a pared back set for us, using an acoustic guitar, upright bass, snare drums, and voices to show us a different side of these songs. The stories are as strong as ever.