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Undead, Undead: Bauhaus celebrates 40 years of sound, vision and vibe

Bauhaus | photo by Graham Trott | courtesy of the artist

For all of what “Goth” would become, and has become, in its mass-mediation — everything from an inspiration to the monsters of Columbine to creating all-in-black characters in South Park — its roots were humbler and less violent (if no less theatrical), with its flashpoint occurring after its first focus had splintered: Bauhaus.

Though the British quartet assembled right after post-punk fellowmen The Cure, Magazine, Siouxsie & the Banshees and Joy Division had, Peter Murphy, Kevin Haskins, David J and Daniel Ash were on their own, loners stuck out in Northampton, England with their German art movement magazine images, stuffily serious bat wing impressionism and their T. Rex records before forming Bauhaus. Frankly, the four members of Bauhaus seemed like a gang of one without connection or camaraderie from other acts, coming into the end of the 70s. 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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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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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 →

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Talking divine intervention, self-care, Bohemian Rhapsody and Magic Gone with Petal’s Kiley Lotz

Petal
Petal | photo by Katie Krulock | courtesy of the artist

Petal is the project of singer-songwriter Kiley Lotz, a Scranton native whose unflinchingly honest rock draws from some of her favorite singers growing up, including Freddie Mercury, Carole King, and Nina Simone. Her newest album, Magic Gone, takes Lotz’ struggles with mental health and questions about her sexual identity and crafts them into a series of beautiful and intimate punk songs with guitars and drums just as raw. Her live performances are nothing short of awe-inspiring, whether she’s bringing down the house with a full band shredding, or taking it solo and captivating crowds with her steady and transfixing voice. Ahead of her first headlining appearance at the First Unitarian Church, I spoke with Lotz just before the new year, and we talked about her new album, self-care while on tour, her college education in Theatre Arts, and the movie Bohemian Rhapsody. Continue reading →

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The colors of Chromelodeon

Chromelodeon | image courtesy of the artist

If the Marios were more super than your brothers and the sounds of video game music (VGM) was your EDM from the years 2000 to 2007, then the seven-to-nine collective membership of Philadelphia’s Chromelodeon was your cup of tea. When they reunite at PhilaMOCA this weekend – January 19 and 20 – for their first shows in 11 years, it will be for the love of the game, past and present, as well as for the mutual respect of its metal machine music makers.

“Video games were definitely an important part of all of our childhoods,” says bassist Denny Barron of a South Jersey youth that led each member (synth men Dino Lionetti and Ryan Soloby), guitarists Danny Tarng and Eddy Tsang, drummers Patrick “Bucky” Todd and Joseph Idell, accordionist David Chapman and visual artist Chris Singer) to the Chromelodeon center. “The sound of those games was always something that we carried with us as well developed as musicians throughout our lives.” Continue reading →

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The (com)passion of Karuna: old friends-percussionists Adam Rudolph and Hamid Drake join forces with saxophonist Dave Liebman

Liebman, Rudolph, Drake are Karuna | photo courtesy of the artist

From its name — the Tibetan word for compassion — to its conscious interplay and improvisation (or spontaneous composition), Karuna radiate soul, intimacy and humanity. Part of this touch-sensitivity surely stems from the fact that the trio’s two percussionists, Adam Rudolph (djembe, congas, tarija, sintir, electronics) and Hamid Drake (kit, vocals, frame drum) palled around as kids in Chicago, are dear friends, and have played together in diverse bands from leaders such as Baba Fred Anderson, Don Cherry, Yusef Lateef, Pharaoh Sanders, Hassan Hakmoun and more.

After one loving recording with reeds man Ralph M. Jones, Karuna’s Rudolph and Drake are touring and making music with legendary tenor and soprano saxophonist (to say nothing of bamboo flautist) Dave Liebman for an album called Chi, due out in February. Before that release, the trio (who also go by Liebman Rudolph & Drake) make a pit stop at Boot & Saddle on Monday, January 14, under the watchful curatorial eye of Philadelphia’s Ars Nova Workshop.  I caught up with Rudolph at home in New York City, just days before the live proceedings to see what friendship and fire mean to this union. Continue reading →

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The new testament of Aaron Neville

Aaron Neville | photo courtesy of the artist

There is much to unpack when contemplating Aaron Neville, the improvisational, interpretive voice of the angels — to say nothing of the Cajun saints of New Orleans — renowned for his work (and life) with the Neville Brothers, duets with Linda Ronstadt, and a solo catalog that stretches back to 1960’s “Over You” and 1962’s”Tell It Like It Is.” By this point, it is triple (not second) nature to say that the large man with the high lilting voice is a wonder of the world not yet numbered. “I don’t plan what I’m going to sing or think through it too hard,” says Neville from his home in New York City about the level of in-the-moment improvisation that he and his vocals live through. “It just happens…that’s what comes out.”

Yet, for all of his time into the naturalistic art of song, a fleeting few tunes’ lyrics have been penned by Neville himself. Yet, when he did – with the sultry likes of 1989’s “Yellow Moon” – the effects were illuminating, haunting and oddly joyous.

With his muscular, most recent album, Apache, its release on his own Tell It label — and his stripped-down live showcases at ArtsQuest Cente’s Musikfest Café in Bethlehem, PA on Wednesday, and the South Orange Performance Arts Center on Saturday — Neville, at the age of 77, seems more ready than ever to take full control of his destiny. Continue reading →