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Get to know XPN’s February Artist To Watch OJR

OJR
OJR | Photo by Nolan Knight | Courtesy of the artist

WXPN’s February Artist To Watch is singer, songwriter, guitarist, millennial cosmic cowboy OJR, born Oliver John-Rodgers. His new album, Nashville Demos, an album the runs the American music gamut. There are strains of country and folk informed by indie and psychedelic rock. It’s fresh and refreshing, and there’s a dual musical nature on this record that presents OJR as both the singer-songwriter and the rock and roller that is very impressive. The Key reached out to OJR via e-mail to talk about some of his musical inspirations and influences. Continue reading →

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Agudos Clef gear up for the Teoria release party

Agudos Clef | Photo courtesy of the artist
Agudos Clef | Photo courtesy of the artist

After several years of steady work, the Trenton-based Latin hip-hop duo Agudos Clef wrapped up production on its debut LP Teoria and is ready to celebrate. The band just announced a show on March 18th at The Trocadero Balcony.

The band has been teasing material from the record for a while now, between their Key Studio Session, songs on MC Josue Lora’s Bandcamp like “No Soy Yo” and the brilliant video for “Raices,” filmed while Lora and his collaborator Nota G were traveling in the Dominican Republic, which you can watch below. Continue reading →

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O Muse: Inspirational Canadian icon Jane Siberry brings her newest odyssey to the Tin Angel

Jane Siberry | courtesy of the artist
Jane Siberry | courtesy of the artist

The veteran Canadian singer and songwriter Jane Siberry will make a rare Philly appearance next Tuesday, at the Tin Angel.  She’s touring in support of Ulysses’ Purse, her first new record in five years and arguably her most substantial statement since her commercial heyday of the 1980s and early 1990s.  It may also be – as she told me by phone from New York, where she’s preparing for the tour – her “last formal record,” which is all the more reason to listen up. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Cayetana

cayetana
Cayetana | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller | koalafoto.com

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 biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Philly’s been known over the years for jazz, having been home to heavyweights like Coltrane, Lee Morgan, Jimmy Smith, Billie and of course, Philly Joe Jones. We’ve been known for hip hop, most widely recognized for the Roots and Fresh Prince, Freeway or Beanie, but with roots deep into the heady days of the conception of the genre reaching all the way back to Lady B’s “To The Beat Y’all” and Schoolly D’s seminal gangsta rap cut, “PSK, What Does It Mean?” We’re known in the national musical consciousness for that golden era of the 70’s, Hall & Oates, The O’Jays, Billy Paul, and Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia Soul.

When it comes to indie rock and punk, though, Philly has been somewhat outshined in decades past by the likes of Sub Pop’s Seattle or, say, “college rock” benchmarks out of Athens and Austin.

But an indie rock scene has been simmering here for years, from Shai Halperin’s unheralded aughts bands The Capitol Years through better-recognized successors, Kurt Vile and his War On Drugs. These days, original, talented, fresh-sounding, local rock bands are dutifully packing our favorite bars and show spaces in billed shifts on any given weeknight, making noise in every neighborhood.

Enter Cayetana, perhaps the most polite and respectful rock band you’ll ever meet. Maybe they look familiar, where a recent Stereogum article cast them as the poster children of Philly’s DIY scene.

But if singer and guitarist Augusta Koch, bassist Allegra Anka and drummer Kelly Olsen could ever appear to you to be some sort of archetypal group, you’ll find it challenging to compare their sound to any other. Their brand is unique, self-conscious punk with substantive, introspective lyrics packaged behind killer hooks.

And good news for us: they’re honing their stagecraft locally these days, on a break from touring to work on their second LP, with a new EP just out to whet your appetites. Catch them at PhilaMOCA this Saturday for a 7″ release show and, again at Union Transfer in February when they open for The Loves Ones’ sold-out reunion show. And, well, RIP Golden Tea House.

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Escort will accompany you to disco paradise, 2016-style

Escort | photo by Shervin Lainez | courtesy of the artist
Escort | photo by Shervin Lainez | courtesy of the artist

The past decade or so has seen “disco” rehabilitated from a dirty, shameful word to a hallmark of hipster sophistication (and, in recent years, a resurgent, fully mainstream pop phenomenon) – and it’s not too far-fetched to suggest that Brooklyn’s Escort played a role in that transformation.  They’ve certainly been along for the ride.  Launched in 2006 as a studio-bound duo project – the brainchild of DJ/producers Eugene Cho and Dan Balis, Escort eventually expanded into a whopping seventeen-piece live ensemble: not so much a case of wanton, coke-addled excess as simply the number of players necessary to faithfully replicate their meticulously detailed, vintage-inspired string, horn and percussion arrangements.

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A Trailblazer Returns: Philly producer Bud Ross on emerging from retirement in the digital age

Bud Ross | Photo by Josh Pelta Heller for WXPN | hellerhound.com
Bud Ross | Photo by Josh Pelta Heller for WXPN | hellerhound.com

“I left music for a job selling Cadillacs. Six months ago, I retired and returned to music, my true love…”

Despite being active in the Philadelphia scene at a time when the city was in the midst of a full fledged musical revolution, singer / songwriter and guitarist Bud Ross is not a household name.

Born in Detroit in 1940, Ross’s family moved to Chestnut Hill when he was a toddler. As the sounds of doo-wop and early rock n’ roll swept in and reshaped the country’s cultural landscape, Ross got bit by the music bug and began singing. He first explored his musical gifts performing at school talent shows and “serenading nuns” at the local recreation center with tunes like Nat King Cole’s “Answer Me, Oh My Love.” Like many kids across the country, Bud Ross would form his own groups, writing songs and singing harmony around town. Continue reading →

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Sound and Place: Low Cut Connie

Adam Weiner and Finnemore of Low Cut Connie with Ray's Happy Birthday Bar owner Lou Capozzoli | Photo by David Norbut | dnorphoto.com | courtesy of the artist
Adam Weiner and Dan Finnemore of Low Cut Connie with Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar owner Lou Capozzoli | Photo by David Norbut | davidnorbut.com | courtesy of the artist

Sound and Place is a recurring series where we take Philly musicians to their favorite places in town. For this installment, we sit down over pints and PBRs at Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar with Low Cut Connie.

“I like to play in environments where there’s some people in the room, first of all, who are not on our side that we can win over, and ideally there’d be some people in the room who we can uplift in some way.” Adam Weiner took a bite of his apple. “And in here you can find a lot of people on a downward spiral.”

The singer, pianist and frontman of Low Cut Connie sat in the back of Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar, a South Philly institution known for its personality, down-and-out charm and festive merrymaking. To his left was band mate, drummer and guitarist Dan Finnemore. To his right sat Lou Capozzoli, Ray’s owner and a longtime musician in his own right.

It was a rainy Wednesday night in early December, the bar relatively quiet at first, quickly filling with neighborhood regulars clouding the room with smoke, filtering back to greet Capozzoli, Weiner and Finnemore. The latter two had all but wrapped up a year of touring behind Low Cut Connie’s rambunctious, bombastic, yet refined and smart third album Hi Honey, out last April.

The trio sat at a table, the charming message “Music makes me smile,” painted on the wall behind them, huddled around a few sheets of paper, some of the typed text crossed out and amended in pen. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Sonni Shine

sonni shine
Sonni Shine | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller | koalafoto.com

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 biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

After six years writing and recording four albums, and playing over six-hundred shows together, The Underwater Sounds are parting ways. If that makes an interview with frontwoman Sonni Shine sound like a bit of a bittersweet epilogue, consider all that’s on the horizon for this reggae/soul/ska artist, as she teams up with so many other talented Philly musicians for new projects.

This Spring, it seems Sonni’s mellifluous vocals will be everywhere, lucky for us, on everything from a new EP from reggae crew Cultureal – executively produced, mixed and mastered by Phil Nicolo at Studio 4 – to a new collaboration with electronic-dub DJ goldenSpiral, “Eternal Life,” to a Sade tribute show at Bourbon and Branch on May 7th along with Zeek Burse and members of WorldTown. If that’s not enough, the singer says she looks forward to a project of her own as she lends her soulful voice to some independent material she’s been working on, music with more of, as she puts it, a “soul-folk/roots vibe.”

For now, The Underwater Sounds offer you a music video for “My Future.” The second installment of the band’s September 2015 release, Visions of Love and Light, will be available at their “Final Farewell” show at Underground Arts on Friday, February 5th, and all who attend will receive a download card.

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The Key Presents: Foxing

Foxing | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com
Foxing | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

Foxing are a force of nature. Anyone who’s seen the St. Louis post-emo six-piece in the past year-and-a-half of relentless touring can attest to that fact. Frontman Conor Murphy brings a fearsome energy to the stage, roaring his unbelievably personal lyrics over an oceanic soundscape spooled out drop by drop, each twinkling guitar note and choir sample weaving together as fluidly and surely as tidal erosion.

The combination of blistering passion and ace talent hasn’t gone unnoticed, with the band being hand-selected to support emo titans Brand New, and later joining Philly friends Modern Baseball and mewithoutYou for tours as well, stealing shows and hearts all the while.

But Foxing is at its best with emotions running high, and this isn’t limited to a room full of screaming, sobbing fans—like the one they tore apart at Union Transfer early in December. Some of Foxing’s most visceral moments come not in the raging choruses of songs like “Rory” and “the Medic,” but in the layered introspection and lightly wafting lyrics from Murphy. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Chill Moody

Chill Moody | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller | koalafoto.com
Chill Moody | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller | koalafoto.com

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 biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

All you Philly rappers and hip-hop fans reading this — think on the times you’ve been in your car singing along with Cody Chesnutt on the chorus of “The Seed (2.0),” and along with Black Thought on those verses too. Maybe you sang along live and loud too last July, when the Roots played “You Got Me” to a packed Parkway.

It might be easy enough to run those lyrics in the safety of your own home, or at karaoke one night up at Yakitori when your friends were too drunk to call you out properly because you mispronounced “Elysee Montmartre.” But even the biggest Roots fans might start to sweat, should they happen to be asked to perform those two tracks 1) live, 2) to a hometown audience of thousands, and 3) in front of Thought, Quest and company.

Chill Moody was tapped to do just that in October, with just a couple days to prepare, when The Roots were inducted onto the Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame.

As someone who’s by now shared everything from high schools and neighborhoods with the likes of Will Smith and Schooly D to a stage with The Roots, Chill Moody stands for Philly hip hop as a proper prodigal son, vetted and venerable. On topics of all things Philly arts, from Jane Golden’s prolific Mural Arts program, to our locally celebrated and nationally renowned rap artists, Chill Moody explains why Philly can have #NiceThings. Continue reading →