The Sounds of Connection: Umer Piracha explores the intimacy of traditional Sufi music in his new project Falsa

Falsa | photo by Nataly Nguyen | courtesy of the artist

Earlier this week, a friend told Umer Piracha that his new band’s music is “the cure for alienation.”

“I like that,” muses the 31-year-old Philadelphia musician. When we first met Piracha, he was a solo artist with spacious originals sitting alongside covers of Radiohead. His voice soars like Jeff Buckley, his knack for ambience is innate, and recently he’s been expanding his sonic ambition from introspective singer-songwriting to moving, meditative ensemble performances with a group dubbed Falsa.

Rooted in expansive 14th century Sufi classical, Falsa sort of does for the music of Pakistan what Tinariwen does for the music of Mali; places it in a contemporary context, but keeping the traditional sounds and stylings very much in the forefront, asking modern listeners to engage with centuries of musical history. But where Tinariwen goes for the rock club highs, Falsa is decidedly more intimate — the band sees it as chamber music designed to bring people closely together.

They’ll do just that this Saturday, April 29th, when they play J.J. Tiziou’s famed West Philly House Concert series. Below, listen to a live recording of Falsa performing “Aaj Rang Hai” and read my interview with Piracha about the new project. Continue reading →


Watch Shannen Moser perform “Alex (282)” for Folkadelphia and The Key; preorder her vinyl reissue via Lame-O

Shannen Moser | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

After a few years making a name for herself in the Philly house show scene, singer-songwriter Shannen Moser released the very impressive Oh, My Heart tape this winter, and it was an arrival. Building on the promise of her low-fi 2015 debut, you shouldn’t be doing that, the LP showcased haunting, heartrending songs embracing Moser’s roots in folk and country music with stunning arrangements made in collaboration with guitarist Eric Muth.

Folk has always been in Moser’s blood; she grew up in Berks County, she remembers hearing her dad play Townes Van Zandt’s “Be Here In the Morning” in his truck, and to this day sacred harp singing is one of her favorite forms of music. She says it makes her feel most at peace, and Oh, My Heart opens with a 28-second sample of “I’m Going Home” from a Sacred Harp concert at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

This confluence of factors is certainly why I gravitated to it, and my enthusiasm was shared by the team at Folkadelphia radio. This winter, we teamed up for a collaboration between Folkadelphia and The Key Studio Sessions to record Moser and her band. Today, we’re excited to bring you a video from that session, as well as some news — Moser’s Oh, My Heart will receive a vinyl reissue via Lame-O Records this spring. Continue reading →


The Districts get weird upstairs at Fergies’ in “Ordinary Day” video from their new Popular Manipulations LP

The Districts | photo by Pooneh Ghana | via Noisey

We’ve had the latest single Lititz sons The Districts, “Ordinary Day,” in super heavy rotation over here at XPN HQ, and for a band that boasted a standout cut called “Bold” on their last album, 2015’s A Flourish and A Spoil, this jam lives up to that name.

Their trademark build-to-catharsis effect is more emphatic than ever, and lead vocalist Robby Grote is unabashed, not holding back at all in his delivery — he lets his mellifluous voice rip in a way we haven’t heard previously. All signs are indicating that their forthcoming third album Popular Manipulations is moving in step.
Continue reading →


Just Announced: Kendrick Lamar brings DAMN. to the Wells Fargo Center in July

Kendrick Lamar | via NPR Music

On the heels of his acclaimed fifth project DAMN., critically-acclaimed, Grammy-winning Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar announced a summer tour that with Travis Scott and D.R.A.M. that comes to the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia on Wednesday, July 19th. Tickets are on sale this Friday, April 28th, at 9 a.m., and more information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar. Continue reading →


Items Tagged Philadelphia: The shearing of spring lawns and hissing of stray cats

Veev | via

Here at The Key, we spend a lot of time each week digging through every new release from Philadelphia that shows up on Bandcamp. At the end of each week, we present you with the most interesting, most unusual and overall best of the bunch: this is Items Tagged Philadelphia.

Greetings from a front porch in the Mt. Airy section of Northwest Philadelphia. This week’s edition of Items Tagged Philadelphia is the first that I’ve written out of doors, and it’s a lovely experience, I tell you what. I gave my matchbox-size front yard a long overdue cleaning prior to breaking out my laptop; a stray tabby from the neighborhood just skulked around the perimeter of the porch, giving me an uncertain but endearing death stare on the way to pillage the remnants of a cookout next door; there’s a cool breeze keeping things comfortable.

Yesterday was not as agreeable, climate-wise, much to the chagrin of the Record Store Day hopping set. I kept my outing focused on Main Street Music in Manayunk, where Philly son Ron Gallo played a rip-roaring Stooges-covering instore set to a packed room escaping from the rain. Ronny was great — his new record Heavy Meta smokes — and I picked up RSD singles from The Districts and Big Thief, in addition to a live double LP from The Roots dating back to 1992 that may or may not be an official release, and The Spinners’ 1975 album Pick of the Litter, recorded right here in Philly at Chinatown’s Sigma Sound, a historic site now being converted to luxury condos because capitalism can be so very evil. Continue reading →


PREMIERE: Orion Freeman scales things down for his new album Morning Son

Orion Freeman | photo courtesy of the artist
Orion Freeman | photo by Thomas Seyoum | photo courtesy of the artist

On his last record, Philadelphia area singer-songwriter Orion Freeman was decidedly maximal. Twenty seven musicians, strings and horns, an hour of wall-to-wall sound. On the new Morning Son, he felt the need to scale back to the essentials: guitar, voice, harmony, and field recordings of every day life to add texture and a sense of place. “It feels to me more like a single chapter this time around, as opposed to an entire book,” Freeman tells us over email.

The record feels haunting and intimate, recalling Josh Rouse, Neal Halstead and Simone Felice over nine songs — and we’re thrilled to premiere it for you below. Freeman recorded Morning Son in a buddy’s cabin in Western PA; there was no running water, the space was solar powered, and it gave him a true Desolation Angels-esque space of isolation and reflection. Continue reading →


Graham Nash, Old Crow Medicine Show, Taj Mahal, Keb Mo and more will play Philadelphia Folk Festival 2017

Graham Nash | Photo by Kate McCann for WXPN |

Veteran singer-songwriter Graham Nash and well-traveled bluegrass ensemble Old Crow Medicine Show lead off the lineup of artists performing at the 56th Annual Philadelphia Folk Festival this summer.

Set for August 17th through the 20th at Old Pool Farm in Upper Salford Township, the initial lineup also includes Taj Mo: a new collaboration between blues favorites Taj Mahal and Keb Mo’, and their respective bands. Also bringing the blues is Kansas City guitarist and songwriter Samantha Fish, while bluegrass mandolinist Sierra Hull makes her festival debut. Continue reading →


Five reasons to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch at The Forrest Theater this week

Hedwig | via

Waiting in the queue in front of Walnut Street’s Forrest Theater last night, it was a foregone conclusion that I was going to like the performance inside. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is, after all, my favorite piece of modern musical theater. John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s glam-tinged songs are energized and anthemic, while the story — about the misadventures a transgender rocker from East Berlin trying to find her place in the world — is funny, heartbreaking, poignant and endlessly compelling.

But even adjusting my reaction for bias and predisposition, I walked away from opening night last night seriously bowled away. This show was capital-W wow seriously really good. Continue reading →


The Key Studio Sessions: Vince Tampio Quintet

Philly trumpeter Vince Tampio made a funny observation while we were setting up for his Quintet’s Key session: he’s recorded at WXPN studios so many times that his phone automatically connects to our wifi.

It’s true. In recent years alone, Tampio has sat in on sessions with Johnny Showcase, You Do You, Heyward Howkins and York Street Hustle. Outside of our walls, Tampio has performed onstage or on record with Allison Polans, OhBree, Impressionist, Red 40 and the Last Groovement and John Byrne Band. Basically he’s the go-to cross-genre horn-blowing utility man of the Philly scene, but this year he’s been revisiting his jazz roots.

In January, Tampio released a new album with his Quintet, Live at PAFA — an improvised concert recorded in October of 2016 in the rotunda of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The resonant walls of the room gave the performance an atmospheric tinge as sounds and styles collided from the jazz world and beyond. I was so impressed by the record, I invited Tampio and the group in our studio to record. Continue reading →

Support for The Key Studio Sessions, from Dogfish Head

Cayetana is touring with Camp Cope and Worriers, playing Lancaster in July

Cayetana | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman |

While we’re on the subject of outstanding releases to look forward to this spring, consider this your PSA: the sophomore record from Cayetana is going to blow your minds. On New Kind of Normal, the Philly punk trio expands its sound into more simmering and atmospheric zones than we’ve heard from it in the past, while simultaneously kicking out some of the most revved-up anthems of its catalog.

The band treated us to a rooftop performance a couple sunny Saturdays ago, and we’ll have that video — along with an interview — for the next installment of The Key Presents. For now, we bring you an exciting piece of tour news. Continue reading →