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The High Key Portrait Series: Lucy Stone

Lucy Stone | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in recurring installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Posing for some portraits at XPN studios, Lucy Stone calls attention to her sunshine-yellow jacket, and volunteers that her mother said it wasn’t her color and warned her against it, before the singer affixes her own punchline to the narrative, unironically: “That’s why I wore it.”

Having played with local indie rock faves DRGN KING and Sad13 before then striking out on her own for awhile, the Philly native has planned some stage time in the coming months with new crew Vexxed, supporting tracks they recently laid down at a Drexel studio with compositions she’d written when she was 16.

And she can rock her yellow jacket if she wants to, along with a uniquely frank wit and deadpan humor, demonstrated by her response to a mention of her stern portrait visage.

“Good,” she confirms. “I want people to be afraid.”  Continue reading →

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Indie Rock Hit Parade Live Session: The Goon Sax

The Goon Sax | Photo by Eric Schuman for XPN

Joining us in the studio for this Indie Rock Hit Parade live session is a young band with a classic sound. Formed while the members were still in high school, Brisbane’s The Goon Sax carry a lifetime of influences with them. With James Harrison and Louis Forster trading off guitar and bass duties and Riley Jones supplying drums (and all three members singing), The Goon Sax quickly gained attention and acclaim for their inspired spin on the Australian (and New Zealand) indie pop traditions of the ’80s and ’90s. Continue reading →

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The Essential Love Songs of Philadelphia: “Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul

Billy Paul | still from video

Every day leading up to Valentine’s Day this year, The Key is recapping 14 songs that scream “love” just as strongly as they scream “Philly.” The Essential Love Songs of Philadelphia continues with “Me and Mrs. Jones” from Billy Paul’s 1972 album 360 Degrees of Billy Paul.

Back in the day, in the late 60s and 70s, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International Records produced their share of incredible love songs. From “Expressway To Your Heart” by the Soul Survivors and “La La Means I Love You” by The Delfonics, to The Spinners’ “Then Came You” and the smooth soul of “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” by Lou Rawls, L-O-V-E was this label’s bread and butter. That’s to say nothing of Philly International’s ultimate love man, Teddy Pendergrass, whose songs illustrated the full range of love; requited, unrequited, and in the timeless ballad “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” (recorded in 1972 with Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes), tortured love.

But three months later, in December 1972, the now-classic R&B song “Me and Mrs. Jones” sat atop the Billboard Hot 100 in the number one spot for three weeks. The ballad — sung by Philly International legend Billy Paul (originally from just across the river, in Blackwood, New Jersey) and written by Gamble, Huff, and Cary Gilbert — was about marital infidelity, a secret love, and sung from the man’s perspective. On top of a smooth, sultry groove, and a memorable, dramatic string arrangement that heightened the tension of the affair, Paul sings “We both know it’s wrong, but it’s much too strong to let it go now,” about their daily meeting (“the same place, the same cafe, the same time”). Continue reading →

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Revisiting the road to Tomorrow with Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten | photo courtesy of the artist

Sharon Van Etten makes me feel like I don’t do anything.

In the five years since her 2014 opus Are We There alone, it would be hard to find something she hasn’t done. In addition to touring behind that album, she performed and collaborated with countless other artists. She started scoring films. She branched out into acting and appeared on some of the buzziest cult television shows of the era. She even started pursuing her degree in Psychology. On top of all of that, she settled into a long-term relationship and became a parent. Oh yeah, and she wrote and recorded her latest masterpiece, the soaring, sobering Remind Me Tomorrow. Just typing all of that out makes me want to go back to bed, but Van Etten sounds as energized and dynamic as ever. While this album’s songs aren’t about these life events and achievements, specifically, they do accurately convey the emotions and perspective shifts that came with them. It’s a meditation on what it’s like to be happy during unhappy times, and how important and challenging it is to stay happy.

Ahead of next week’s performance at Union Transfer, Sharon was gracious enough to have a long chat with me about everything that’s been going on in the years leading up to Tomorrow, the work and influences that went into it, and how she stays grounded and positive through everything going on around us. Continue reading →

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Indie Rock Hit Parade Live Session: Madeline Kenney (2019)

Madeline Kenney | Photo by Eric Schuman for XPN

Joining us in the studio for this Indie Rock Hit Parade session is an artist who’s quickly becoming a regular around these parts. Madeline Kenney‘s first visit to the IRHP was just that; she was touring with Chaz from Toro y Moi and the Mattson 2 and was a non-performing companion at their session. Shortly after releasing her debut album, Night Night at the First Landing, Kenney charted a course to make our studio her own. That session was a swirling, guitar- and voice-looping delight, but it didn’t quite prepare us for the creative leap that Kenney would make on her next record. Perfect Shapes, produced by Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak/Flock of Dimes, was one of my favorite albums of 2018. Its blend of billowing synths, springy guitars and, of course, Kenney’s dynamic vocals, felt like a debut of a new kind of artist. In what has become a kind of tradition, Kenney returned to our studio when her Perect Shapes tour brought her back to Philly. Continue reading →

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Hello and Goodbye, Sagar Bumsweat: Philly basement show rapper closes up shop with Greater Fool Radio

Sagar Bumsweat | photo courtesy of the artist
Sagar Bumsweat | photo courtesy of the artist

Sagar Vasishtha’s weird and wonderful digital rap tapes first landed on our radar just over a year ago, in a late-2017 edition of the dormant Items Tagged Philadelphia project. Following up on the earlier release PROPERMEDITATION, Vasishtha’s home-recorded hip-hop project Bumsweat released an instrumental EP called BOOGSLOOPS1000, purporting that it was inspired by a legendary series of underground beat tapes that inspired him as a budding producer. Taking in by the mystique and taking him at his word for such, I praised the project’s “totally transportive Theviery Corporation / Faithless / Massive Attack vibrations” while acknowledging the obscure origins of its influence. Turns out the Boog’s Loops tapes were more obscure than I realized: as I learned in this interview, they were Vasishtha’s own projects, released as a teenager learning to navigate the world of DIY production. He’s been at this game for longer than we realized.

So what exactly brings us to this interview? For one thing, Sagar Bumsweat (as the project has gone for its last couple releases) has a new collection of music out today called Greater Fool Radio. It’s another set of dream-like synthesizer tapestries, fierce beats, and matter-of-fact flow that wouldn’t sound out of place alongside Anticon-era Why? or Stones Throw Records luminary Peanut Butter Wolf. But enough with the reference points; the other reason we’re talking to Vasishtha is because after two years and change, he’s closing the book on Sagar Bumsweat as he prepares to leave Philadelphia. Continue reading →

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Two to Tango: Steve Gunn and Meg Baird

Steve Gunn (l) and Meg Baird (r) | photos courtesy of the artists

Steve Gunn may live in New York. Meg Baird may live in San Francisco. Mary Lattimore may live in Marin County.  No one, however considers the guitarist, vocalist and harpist — respectively — as anything but dyed-in-the-wool forever Philadelphians. Therefore, their shared bill Union Transfer showcase on Saturday February 2 isn’t a homecoming. It’s a block party. Gunn and Baird phoned in from their respective homes to discuss their new albums (Gunn’s The Unseen In between, Baird and Lattimore’s Ghost Forests) and their friendly harp slinging pal. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Garnet Mimms

Garnet Mimms | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in recurring installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Early in 1971, Janis Joplin’s second and final solo studio record Pearl was released, and featured a number of what would ultimately become her best-known hits. Among them was “Cry Baby,” which she’d been featuring in live sets in the years prior, and which was released as a single in 1971 (b/w “Mercedes Benz”) that spent six weeks on that year’s charts.

Perhaps it was her notoriety, or her untimely death at age 27, just a few months prior, that helped to seal the popular association of that track so synonymously with Joplin, her withering blues-rock rendition reportedly a commentary on an ex-boyfriend’s departure. But, written by hitmakers Bert Berns and Jerry Ragovoy seven years earlier, the song had another life with its original performer, a gospel artist named Garnet Mimms. Backed by the likes of Dionne Warwick and Cissy Houston, Mimms put that song on top of the R&B and US pop charts in 1963, launching the singer into an international spotlight. Continue reading →

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Indie Rock Hit Parade Live Session: Jon Spencer + the HITmakers

Jon Spencer + the HITmakers | Photo by Katie Tapman for XPN

Joining us in the studio for this Indie Rock Hit Parade Live session is a pivotal figure in the world of wigged-out fuzz punk. Jon Spencer has served as leader of countless groups and collaborations over the last 30+ years, including (but not limited to) Pussy Galore, Heavy Trash and, of course, the Blues Explosion that bears his name. After a handful of years recording and touring with a reunited Blues Explosion, 2018 saw something a bit surprising emerge from Spencer’s cavern of cro-magnon rock: his first ever solo album. Continue reading →

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The musical rehabilitation of Franky Hill’s User

Franky Hill | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

The first time I saw Franky Hill, I didn’t know what to expect from him. The show was last month at MilkBoy, and Hill was opening for one of the dopest hip hop artist in the city, Ivy Sole. But the moment he got on stage and touched the mic, I felt like I was watching someone going to pulpit and share their testimony with the congregation. The music was amazing, his energy was very contagious, and you could sense that every song Franky performed felt like a wounded spirit had been healed, and was spreading his newfound joy all throughout  the crowd.

From writing battle raps aimed at no one to writing poems to cope with the loss of his beloved mother, to creating his debut album Blurred Lines to his recent project User, it seems as though Franky Hill was destined to use music as a weapon to battle demons, whether they belong to him or others. I recently got a chance to sit with the 24 year old Camden MC to talk about his early beginnings and how User found its way into the world. Continue reading →