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Writing, Touring, Art and Life: A conversation with Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett | Photo by John Vettese
Courtney Barnett | Photo by John Vettese

Last week, Courtney Barnett took the South By Southwest festival by storm, playing a whirlwind eight shows in three days. Lest anybody miss the reason why, it was because she had a record immediately on the way, and she wanted to stamp those songs in the consciousness of the music industry folks making the rounds in Austin.

Luckily, we didn’t need a ton of convincing. Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit is out today on Mom and Pop Music, and it sounds tremendous. It’s technically her debut LP; even though many look at 2013’s The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas as a full-length in its own right – and it certainly had the impact of one – that album combined two previously-released EPs, I’ve got a friend called Emily Ferris (2012) and How to Carve a Carrot Into a Rose (2013). It also has a breezier, homespun vibe, even on the rock-out moments like “Lance Jr.” and “History Eraser.”

By comparison, Sometimes I Sit is a freaking arrival, a big rock record with catchy hooks and fierce playing from Barnett and her bandmates – Dan Luscombe on guitar, Bones Sloane on bass, and Dave Mudie on drums.

Earlier this winter, I caught up with Barnett by phone while she was still back in Millbourne. She had just finished a run of dates at the multi-city Laneway Festival in New Zealand and Australia, and we talked about touring, writing, the new album and art. Continue reading →

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Interpreting Elliott Smith with Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield

Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield | photo via sethandjessicasing.com
Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield | photo via sethandjessicasing.com

Jessica Lea Mayfield’s introduction to Elliott Smith was the song “Clementine” – some dude with a Weezer tattoo played it for her after a gig in Ohio, hoping to impress her, and she was pleasantly surprised.

Seth Avett’s gateway song was “Say Yes” – a friend wanted to learn it, and asked the singer-guitarist of The Avett Brothers to teach him.

This winter, the two musicians – both big players in the American roots / rock scene – are releasing a tribute album to the iconic singer-songwriter, who died tragically in 2003 at age 34. Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliot Smith is out on Tuesday, March 17th, and it’s an outstanding record (listen to it in its entirety via NPR Music’s First Listen to hear for yourself).

Over the course of twelve songs, Avett and Mayfield mix up well-known numbers with deep-cut fan favorites; some arrangements stay relatively faithful to the original recordings, others take thrilling liberties. And all around, they channel the raw emotion that lives at the music’s core. Continue reading →

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Listen to Marcus Mumford talk about the new sound, playing live and Gentlemen of the Road with WXPN’s Mike Vasilikos

Mumford and Sons | Photo  courtesy of the artist
Mumford and Sons | Photo courtesy of the artist

With a new song making the rounds, a new album in the pipeline and a big festival tour bringing them to Seaside Heights this summer, Mumford and Sons are poised to have a pretty excellent 2015. This morning, frontman Marcus Mumford called in to the XPN Morning Show to talk with Mike Vasilikos about how they spent their year off in 2014, what it was like playing first gigs in a while, the upcoming Gentlemen of the Road tour and the hotly-debated evolution of their sound. Continue reading →

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When Worlds Collide: Comcast SportsNet reporters Reuben Frank and Sarah Baicker talk about new music and Free at Noon

Reuben Frank and Sarah Baicker in the CSN Studio | Photo courtesy of  Sarah Baicker
Reuben Frank and Sarah Baicker in the CSN Studio | Photo courtesy of Sarah Baicker

XPN’s Free at Noon series has become a hot commodity since its inception ten years ago, and in that time, the free weekly music series has developed many regulars – two of whom you might already be familiar with if your TV is regularly tuned to the Eagles and Flyers on Comcast SportsNet.

Philadelphia Eagles beat writer Reuben Frank and Philadelphia Flyers Beat Writer Sarah Baicker are frequently in the house at World Cafe Live, catching each week’s performance and sharing their reaction – positive and negative – on social media. They sat down to talk with The Key about the music they’ve been listening to lately, who has the best and worst music taste in the Comcast SportsNet Newsroom and their all-time favorite Free at Noons. Continue reading →

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How a lake in Hungary and a cabin in the Poconos inspired Laser Background’s new EP

via facebook.com/laserbackground
via facebook.com/laserbackground

In the summer of 2013, Andy Molholt of Laser Background traveled to Hungary on vacation. He soaked up the scenery around his family’s ancestral home, visited Lake Balaton – the largest freshwater lake in central Europe – and drew sketches of his traveling companion.

A year later, he returned to Lake Balaton and began writing what would be his band’s latest release. Continue reading →

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Catching up with G Love before his March shows at the TLA

via facebook.com/glovespecialsauce
via facebook.com/glovespecialsauce

G Love has been a staple of the Philadelphia music scene for what seems like forever, with his first album, G. Love and Special Sauce, coming out nearly 21 years ago. But G. (born Garrett Dutton) never stopped making music and is back to the old touring grind this March with an extensive U.S. tour, which includes two stops in Philly at South Street’s Theater of the Living Arts, to promote his newest album, Sugar.

But this year’s Sugar Blues Tour is just the latest in G. Love’s storied music career; he’s basically toured nonstop over the course of the past 20 years, and doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon. In this interview for The Key, G. talks about his band hitting the drinking age, the return of original bassist James “Jimi Jazz” Prescott, and the grind that’s necessary to stay relevant in the music business. Continue reading →

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Bobby Zankel revives Warriors of the Wonderful Sound for a residency at The Painted Bride and Clef Club

Bobby Zankel's Warriors of the Wonderful Sound | Photo courtesy of the artist
Bobby Zankel’s Warriors of the Wonderful Sound | Photo courtesy of the artist

When Bobby Zankel ended his decade-long run of monthly performances at Tritone in 2011 (mere months before the South Street club itself went to a better place), the future of the saxophonist’s adventurous Warriors of the Wonderful Sound big band was unclear. The following year brought the first reinvention of the band through a series of commissioned compositions from jazz greats Muhal Richard Abrams, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and Steve Coleman.

A more radical reinvention came in 2013, when Zankel scaled down the band to a ten-piece and almost completely overhauled its membership. “The original band had run its course,” Zankel shrugs now. In its first two years the new Warriors maintained its vitality while making fewer appearances, though the more sporadic shows always made an impact: its unveiling at the 2013 Philadelphia United Jazz Festival; an inventive and surprising collaboration with hip-hop choreographer Raphael Xavier and Cuban-born percussionist François Zayas as part of the Kimmel Center’s inaugural Jazz Residency program; a tribute to “New Thing” pioneers Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, and Sun Ra in a powerhouse double-bill with the Sun Ra Arkestra at the Painted Bride. Continue reading →

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Meet The Bul Bey: Philadelphia’s underdog MC performing at Ortlieb’s next week

The Bul Bey | via thebulbey.tumblr.com
The Bul Bey | via thebulbey.tumblr.com

Amir Richardson might come off as an underdog. That’s because he is. Known in the Philly hip hop world as The Bul Bey, he recently released his debut album with Illvibe Media, titled Shaking Hands and Kissing Babies. And although he’s been making, writing and releasing music since 2007, he refers to this album as his “formal introduction to the masses.”

He’s coming out of his shell and Richardson, 27, admits that he sometimes thinks it took him a while to get to this point.

Without completely cuing the Fresh Prince, Richardson is a homegrown West Philadelphian who’s been shaped and molded by his experiences in the city, both good and bad. Shaking Hands and Kissing Babies is largely a product of this upbringing – one laced, quite honestly, with paranoia and fear. Continue reading →

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Scaling Rose Mountain with Screaming Females

Screaming Females | Photo by Chris Sikich | countfeed.tumblr.com
Screaming Females | Photo by Chris Sikich | countfeed.tumblr.com

This week, local legends in the making Screaming Females capped off their first decade as a band with the release of the rollicking Rose Mountain. As slick and snarling as anything they’ve ever done, it makes a strong case for being the trio’s best work yet. In preparation for what is sure to be a righteous release show tomorrow at the First Unitarian Church, I caught up with singer-guitarist Marissa Paternoster, drummer Jarrett Dougherty, and bassist Michael Abbate to chat about their new record, moving to Philly and their last ten years playing together. Continue reading →

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Ground Up discuss organic beginnings, songwriting and tour with OCD

Ground Up at Union Transfer | via facebook.com/skilloverswag
Ground Up at Union Transfer | via facebook.com/skilloverswag

Philly’s Ground Up may have jumped into the realm of major exposure in recent years with songs like “Got Damn” and “Daps,” whose video views boast over 200,000 views. But it’s their summer smash “Lets Ride” that has captivated audiences and the those of us at The Key’s office. Bij Lincs, the mastermind and the creator of the group’s sound, is matched perfectly by MCs Malakai and Azar, whose lyrical prowess is both intuitive and witty. The guys are currently on tour but I caught up with them to ask where the inspiration on their newest songs came from and what they’re looking forward to about their upcoming hometown show. Continue reading →