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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 →

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Two to Tango: hackedepicciotto and Eric Hubel

HackdePicciotto | photo by Sylvia Steinhäuser | courtesy of the artist

hackedepicciotto and Eric Hubel may, at first, seem as if they come from two different worlds with wide paths. The married twosome behind hackedepicciotto – Alexander Hacke and Danielle de Picciotto – come from the noise and beauty of, respectively, Einstürzende Neubauten and the Love Parade, and together have found an elegant, elegiac center point filed with auto harp and kemençe, for their divergent aesthetics within cool works such as Menetekel and Joy.

When Eric Hubel isn’t busy with his certification from Manhattan’s Dharma Yoga center where he is both teacher and student), the string-focused multi-instrumentalist, composer and performance artist, has worked with the likes of Glenn Branca, Eliot Goldenthal and Hackedepicciotto throughout their recoded catalog. Now, the three are touring as a full-evening of thunder and lightning with Hubel not only opening for Hackedepicciotto, but playing with the ensemble on December 11 at PhilaMOCA.  Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Strand of Oaks

Strand of Oaks | 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.

It was by luck of the draw that Tim Showalter became a Philadelphian. Having spent his childhood in his hometown of Goshen, Indiana, the Strand Of Oaks frontman was sold on Philly by a childhood friend of his who’d already pioneered the relocation, and to hear Showalter tell it, it hardly even feels adopted, anymore.

He makes reference to that several times, in a recent interview with us, effusive in his affection for all he feels Philly has been able to offer him over the past decade and a half here. Wearing his beard long and his lumberjack coat red, Showalter reminisced warmly about wandering the Wissahickon, building out his band, getting to see Philly legend Jack Rose play hallowed local stages like Brenda’s — and then, with a sense of genuine gratitude, the good fortune of getting to later play them himself.

Showalter also talks “Winter Classic”: a lineup of several consecutive Strand Of Oaks shows that launches tonight at Boot And Saddle. On deck this week to celebrate a fourth year of these gigs with him are folk-singer Joe Pug, and My Morning Jacket’s Carl Broemel. Continue reading →

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Healing and Connecting Through Music: Inside the Weathervane Music winter concert

J Pope (left) and Songs in The Key of Free will play Weathervane’s winter studio concert | via Facebook

The folks behind Weathervane Music don’t necessarily consider themselves activists. The Philly nonprofit is more of a champion for independent music through its ten-years-running documentary series Shaking Through.

At the same time, the do look to elevate artists working for social causes, artists who see working for a better world as much a part of what they do as making music. Gabe Greenberg, Creative Director of Weathervane, emphasized a growing need to showcase artists who support social justice issues or provided an unheard perspective. That’s something they’re doing with their winter studio concert at Miner Street Recordings this Friday, December 7th.

The show will open with a performance by Songs in the Key of Free, a group that works to challenge mass incarceration and reform the prison system. Headlining is J Pope and the HearNow, the project of Baltimore singer and rapper Jasmine Pope, who makes activis,-driven songs with her jazz/funk ensemble.

Greenberg says this shift was in part prompted by the 2016 election; in its aftermath, he says, there has been a palpable threat to freedom of expression. “When you think back to the 60’s, activist music used to be incredibly prevalent, and mainstream artists were going out there and making bold political statements,” Greenberg says. “With the DIY scene, it became cool to be apathetic and not care. Now we’re seeing more bands saying ‘no, this is important, and affects my day-to-day life.’ The need to be intentional and mindful is growing, we want to feel a sense of connection.” Continue reading →

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Self-Discovery and Sincere Pop: In conversation with Helena Deland

Helena Deland
Helena Deland | photo by Jodi Heartz | courtesy of the artist

Patience is a virtue too often underestimated in today’s musical climate. When even the biggest pop stars of the world have taken to releasing their albums with little to no advanced notice, it can be easy to miss artists that take their time introducing their music, and themselves, to the world.

Take Montreal up and comer Helena Deland, for example. Over the past year, she’s slowly but surely made herself known by releasing a just handful of songs at a time, like a bedroom pop Body Talk. These songs, “volumes” of a collection called From the Series of Songs “Altogether Unaccompanied”, cover as wide a range of genres as they do feelings. Those emotions and genres come together under the umbrella of what Deland calls “sincere pop”. She’ll be presenting these songs, along with what could potentially be on her proper debut LP in time, via a run of U.S. shows through the first half of December that will include a stop at Philly’s own Johnny Brenda’s next Wednesday, December 5th.

Before those shows kick off, Helena was gracious enough to chat with The Key about what motivated her release schedule this year, what to expect on stage and on record, and how her view has changed on what pop music is and can be. Continue reading →

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Music of Metamorphosis: Inside the Butterfly Pavilion performance from Portland’s Visible Cloaks and Philly’s Chrysalis Ensemble

Visible Cloaks | via facebook.com/bowerbirdPHL

It’s easy to understand the appeal of butterflies. They’re beautiful, delicate, very much elegant in a way. But of course they don’t start out like that. Butterfly eggs look like a pile of small beads balanced precariously on the edge of a leaf. The caterpillars hatched from those eggs are decidedly not elegant, though they can look pretty neat. We talk about the transformative nature of cocoons and but that process is violent and rather gory. So while the end result might be this beautiful creature flying around our gardens, that’s not the whole story, not by a long shot.

This Friday at the Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion and Insectarium in Northeast Philly, a group of musicians will be diving deep into the topic. The Bowerbird-presented event, which will be held in the 7,000 square foot pavilion that’s home to thousands of butterflies, features performances from Portland duo Visible Cloaks, who have been celebrated for their minimal ambient synth-driven songs, and Philadelphia’s The Chrysalis Ensemble. Continue reading →

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WHY?’s Yoni Wolf talks about ten years of Alopecia and why I remind him of his dad

WHY? | photo courtesy of the artist

One year ago, WHY?’s Yoni Wolf — loquacious literary-inspired rapper, producer and instrumentalist, one-time Anticon label owner — returned to the famed home recording of his past with 2017’s Moh Lhean; this, after spending all of his time since 2008 stretching the boundaries of chamber-hop sound and lyricism with that same year’s Alopecia. This modern classic of angsty, alternative hip hop, a nasally intoned effort currently re-released on vinyl (“we can’t keep it in stock, as each pressing runs out quicker than the previous run,” says Wolf), and its tenth anniversary is cause enough for live celebration as WHY? pulls into Union Transfer on November 29. Continue reading →

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Draco Rosa’s Latin Lesson: Rock en espanol innovator (and Ricky Martin collaborator) returns with Monte Sagrado

Draco Rosa | photo courtesy of the artist

The only thing that matches the pleasure of speaking with Draco Rosa is listening to him, and his various shades of haunting sound across a three decade spectrum. If you don’t know him from his goth-tinged rock en espanol albums such as 1996’s Vagabundo, 2004’s Mad Love, 2013’s Vidam — or his new, epically psychedelic and metallic Monte Sagrado that brings the American-born, Puerto Rican artist to The Foundry November 28 — you know him from the 1990’s alterna-funk outfit, Maggie’s Dream.

If these passionately aching, and smartly conceptual albums have shamefully alluded you, there are smashes (“Living La Vida Loca,” “Maria,” “She Bangs”), that Rosa has co-written and/or produced for his pal, Ricky Martin, with whom he shared a tenure in the multi-platinum, Latino boy band, Menudo. Along with all that, Rosa is a coffee entrepreneur and farm owner, an activist, a cancer survivor and a cookbook author.

Phoning from Las Vegas rehearsals for last week’s live Latin Grammy Awards, Rosa sounded hale and hearty for a guy who had his second bone marrow transplant and beat cancer’s ass — for the second time in his life — earlier this year. Continue reading →